An Ontario Liberal government would impose a “regional living wage” starting at $16 an hour and give all workers portable drug, dental and mental health benefits, the Star has learned.

If Steven Del Duca succeeds Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford in the June 2 election, the Liberals would also provide 10 paid sick days for Ontarians, up from the current three.

As well, the Grits would “ban underpaid gig and contract work, ensure all Ontario businesses offer equal pay for equal work (and) match up to $1,000 in annual retirement savings for low-income earners, including portable savings plans for gig workers.”

Del Duca will unveil his party’s labour policy platform — which it calls a “plan for economic dignity” — on Saturday.

The Liberal leader said the blueprint “will provide immediate recovery for workers today, and secure new, long-term portable benefits that let all workers save for a good retirement.”

“In a province as wealthy and healthy as ours, no full-time worker should struggle to make ends meet,” said Del Duca, noting Ford in 2018 cancelled the previous Liberal government’s planned $15-an-hour minimum wage, only to finally raise it to that rate this past Jan. 1.

“We’ll increase the minimum wage to $16 an hour effective Jan. 1, 2023, to help the more than 700,000 workers who were denied three years of increases to their wages,” the Liberal platform says.

“We’ll then consult broadly and develop a living wage structure that factors different wage rates in different regions of the province — recognizing that some areas are more expensive to meet basic needs in than others,” it continues.

That suggests workers in cities like Toronto, where the cost of living is higher than in other parts of the province, could receive a minimum wage greater than $16 an hour.

Labour unions have said a “living wage” in Toronto is $22 an hour, while in a city like London it’s about $16.20.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has promised a $16 wage as of October if she becomes premier, and to increase it by $1 annually until it’s $20 in 2026. Ford would raise the $15 wage annually at the level of inflation each October.

Even though Ontario has a labour shortage with some 330,000 jobs unfilled, Del Duca said “these days economic dignity is in short supply” in the province.

To tackle that, the Liberals would work with employers to “create a package of high-quality and affordable benefits” for all workers.

“Employers without comparable benefits would be required to enrol their staff while offering employees the option to opt-out. The plan will be portable and able to follow workers between employers,” the platform says.

There would also be provisions for the self-employed.

‘We’ll encourage employers to contribute to the cost of the package. Small businesses will be given an extra two years before automatic enrolment is required and provided with a tax credit to contribute up to 25 per cent of their employees’ benefits and enhance labour retention,” the platform says.

Del Duca stressed “there’s no meaningful protection or path to retirement for workers in the gig economy” these days.

“Unions, like the one I spent a good chunk of my working life building up, are being systematically undermined,” he said.

“And the simple fact of the matter is that as our economy continues to change dramatically, our social safety net has not kept up.”

While Labour Minister Monte McNaughton has pushed workplace reforms as one of the most activist members of Ford’s cabinet, Del Duca said “that’s just political spin, not a deeply held belief” of the premier.

“Remember buck-a-beer? The gas pump stickers? The unreadable license plates? It’s all just smoke and mirrors and gimmicks with that guy — not a serious plan,” he said.

“Ontario has been dragged backwards to a time when the only people who had economic dignity were those who were rich enough to buy it. That’s not the Ontario that we believe in.”

The Liberal platform says Ontario should look at moving toward “a four-day work week” eventually.

“During the pandemic, people showed remarkable flexibility, innovation and resolve in embracing new ways of doing work,” it says.

“At the same time, people felt more depressed, anxious and overwhelmed. Adopting a four-day work week would be another change, but one that experts say could boost quality of life, work-life balance, and much needed relief without a loss in productivity.”

The Liberals would “work with businesses and labour groups of all types to design and evaluate the model.”

They also pledged to revive previous protections that Ford’s Tories have watered down, “including one that ensures everyone is paid equally and fairly for the work they do regardless of gender or employment status — including part-time, casual and temporary workers.

“We’ll also bring back rules that give workers a minimum of three hours’ pay for being on-call when they are not called in or work less than three hours.”

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie