October 15, 2017
Tony DiGiovanni CHT
LO Executive Director

Earlier this year, the Ontario government announced major changes to the Labour Standards Act. The proposals will affect every one of you in the three areas below:

Minimum wage

Minimum wage increases will significantly increase labour costs for garden centres employing many students and growers who bring in offshore labour. Some growers are looking at increased costs of over $1 million next year. The effect on landscape firms will be less (many pay more than minimum wage) however, there will be pressure to increase wages for all positions.

In the previous issue of Landscape Ontario magazine, LO member Jay Murray (co-chair LO’s Government Relations Committee) presented a number of scenarios on how the change will affect a grounds maintenance company. Michael Tilaart and Karl Stensson outlined how growers’ costs will be significantly impacted.

There are only two ways to deal with significant cost increases: one is to raise prices and the other is to streamline operations (including labour costs). Company survival depends on it.

Most of our members tell me they are not against the minimum wage increase. They feel it should be spread out over a much longer time period to allow businesses and customers more time to adjust to higher costs.

LO is a member of a coalition of agricultural associations who are conveying this message to the government with a unified voice. It appears they may be listening. Recently Premier Wynne announced the government is looking at ways to help small business and farmers to cope with the $15 minimum wage. See an article at gfl.me/h3uF.

Landscape Ontario will also prepare a letter to be used by members that explains the necessity to raise prices.

Proposed removal of the Landscape Gardener and Horticulture special rules

Agriculture, horticulture and landscape gardeners have traditionally been grouped under a special rules provision in the Labour Standards Act. The government has recommended ending the special rules provision. They are asking all affected sectors to explain why they feel the rules are necessary.

Here are the reasons why our sector traditionally does not pay overtime or statutory holidays:

There is a short window of time to perform very specific and necessary job functions within our profession. For example, annuals can only be planted at certain times, seed can only be sown at specific times, pruning and other plant management practices can only be performed at certain times. The profession works over 2,000 hours (a year’s worth) within a compressed, eight-month period.

Within the season, landscape gardening/horticulture operations are governed by the elements. Wind, temperature, heat and rainfall all have serious effects on the ability to perform horticultural operations. It is necessary to take advantage of the season and the climate in order to operate effectively.

Perishable products
All landscape gardening/horticulture work requires the installation and maintenance of plant material. Newly-planted landscapes must be watered. Trees that require planting must be planted. Turf needs to be laid and watered. It is not possible to leave plants alone just because it is 4 or 5 p.m. The perishable nature of plant material often guides the hours worked.

Nature and biology set the clock
Typical horticulture work involves diverse operations, such as: plant propagation, landscape installation, landscape maintenance, gardening, vegetation and weed control, mowing, pruning, cultivation, irrigation, pest control, garden creation, fruit and vegetable production, etc. In all these operations, the horticulturist doesn’t set the clock, nature does. Certain activities must be done at certain times of year or plant material will not grow. Bare root trees can only be planted within a one-month period in the spring. Seeding must be done at the beginning of the season. Certain trees are only successful when planted in spring or fall.

Economic profile
Most work in landscape/horticulture is governed by contracts. Contract prices are based on time estimates and product costs. With weather and seasonality uncertainties, it becomes difficult to determine possible overtime requirements.

Labour attraction and retention is by far the biggest issue facing our sector. The fact that we don’t pay overtime makes it even more difficult. This is why some of our members are voluntarily paying overtime. The majority of members are not.

On call pay

The last proposed problematic change is the on call pay requirement that would affect every weather dependent business. I am pleased to report the government listened to our concerns and has made provisions for weather-related businesses. See “LO committee advocates for members.

Here’s how you can help

In light of the government’s intention to challenge the exemption and because labour attraction is a serious limiting factor, is there a unique solution we can put forward? I have always been impressed and inspired by our members’ creativity and care for their employees and customers. I would love to hear your ideas on how we can structure changes to benefit employers and employees.
Tony DiGiovanni may be reached at  tony@landscapeontario.com.