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Thursday, May 9, 2013

NDP to introduce legislation protecting Ontario workers from Vertis ex-workers’ plight

MPP Cindy Forster

On April 25, 2013 at Queen’s Park, Welland New Democratic Party (NDP) Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) Cindy Forster held a news conference with a handful of ex-workers from the closed Vertis Communications plant in Fort Erie, Ontario.  Their goal was to publicize the problems faced by employees of foreign-owned companies that go out of business. 
Although the unionized ex-workers have stopped picketing the closed plant, they are still fighting to get over $2 million in pension plans, benefits, and severance packages they were denied when the U.S.-based parent company abruptly closed the plant in January. 
Vertis was granted bankruptcy status in the United States and sold its assets to Quad/Graphics, another U.S.-based company, but the deal excluded the Fort Erie plant (Vertis’s only Canadian operation) and several of its other U.S. facilities.  
Because of the circumstances of Vertis’s bankruptcy, Vertis has been successful in circumventing Canadian labour laws protecting the ex-workers' right to compensation.  The ex-workers have also been denied access to the federal Wage Income Protection Fund that pays a small amount of financial compensation to terminated employees of a Canadian company that closes without paying severance.  Appeals to the federal government from Ms. Forster, Niagara Falls Liberal MPP Kim Craitor, and Liberal Ontario Labour Minister Yasir Naqvi have failed to gain the Vertis ex-workers access to the fund.
Ms. Forster believes the provincial government should do more to prevent this kind of situation from recurring in Ontario.  Accordingly, she plans to table legislation, probably in the form of a private members’ bill, that would better protect the province's workers when a foreign-owned company closes. She says that the law might provide for the province to pay the terminated employees what they are owed, then use its powers to retrieve the money from the company.
She says such legislation existed when the NDP were last in power (from 1990 to 1995), but that the Conservative Party under former Premier Mike Harris repealed it.  Since then, one subsequent effort by the NDP to reinstate a similar law failed to gain government support.
“As foreign ownership of Canadian manufacturers continues to grow, and global financial markets continue to struggle, more and more Ontarians could be exposed to similar situations,” Ms. Forster said in a press release. “We need to take a serious look at these loopholes, and figure out the best way to protect the rights of Ontario workers.”
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