Labour Report Recommends Sweeping Changes to Unionization, Employment Law in Ontario

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A report released on May 23 by the Ontario legislature calls for sweeping changes to all facets of employment in the province as part of its review of the Employment Standards Act (“ESA”).

At 420 pages—and accompanied by a 56-page summary—“The Changing Workplaces Review” makes a total of 173 recommendations which, if adopted, would drastically alter the nature of temporary, union, and even high-paying professional work in the province. The suggested changes range from a re-imagining of government regulatory bodies—for example, the Ministry of Labour should be transformed from an agency “involved in customer service” (Summary pg. 11) to a more traditional law enforcement agency—to revisions of more day-to-day details—such as the amount paid as minimum wage to students should be raised to the General Minimum Wage of $11.40.

The report takes as its starting point the fact that the nature of employment is changing: “The standard Monday to Friday work week, with predictable hours and wages, health benefits and a pension plan has declined in prevalence” (pg. 8). In this traditional model’s place, limited-term contracts and self-employment—forms that lack the protection afforded by the ESA and related legislation—are becoming more common. Many of the report’s recommendations aim at ensuring these forms of employment are not exploitative.

At the same time, the report also seeks to expand the reach of the Labour Relations Act, and thereby strengthen the position of more traditional kinds of employment. Collective bargaining has long been recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada as included in the general freedom of association under s. 2(d) of the Charter. “The Changing Workplaces Review” recommends making the process of unionization easier, extending it to professions that were traditionally excluded from it, and imposing severer sanctions against employers who seek to stall or impede unionization.

Lastly, the report recommends a more strenuous enforcement of existing regulations: “there are too many people in too many workplaces who do not receive their basic rights” (Full Report pg. 58). While the report acknowledges that many employer infractions stem from ignorance regarding regulations, purposeful infractions on the part employers confident that their employees will not complain are just as common. The report then includes a series of recommendations that call for a more robust enforcement regime that will target employers that consciously fail to comply with existing requirements and those who unfairly rely on contract or temporary employment.

The response from employer-side political organizations has been sceptical. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC), for example, has said that the recommendations should “only be adopted following a comprehensive economic impact analysis.” The OCC  states that “our members believe that increasing the minimum wage and fully implementing these recommendations would have the perverse effect of discouraging investment and eliminating jobs”.

Premier Kathleen Wynne has indicated that her government will be “moving forward very quickly” on this report’s recommendations.

This blog post was written by a CCLA summer student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the view of the CCLA.