Ontario is considering major reforms to make life better for workers

Mar 2 2017, 11:17 pm

A lot has changed in the line of labour over the last two decades.

Jobs are increasingly precarious. Industries are succumbing to automation. Happy hour’s been pushed to nine o’clock (just kidding, no one’s ever happy for a full hour anymore).

And yet the laws that govern employment in Ontario haven’t been updated since the days kids played Crosscountry Canada on IBMs. The Labour Relations Act and Employment Standards Act were most recently amended in 1995 and 2000, respectively.

That’s why the province launched the Changing Workplaces Review almost two years ago, which includes more than 200 potential reforms and is especially focused on non-standard employment – involuntary part-time, temporary, and self-employed work.

Recommendations in the review will be presented to Labour Minister Kevin Flynn this week, who will decide which amendments will be enacted. Flynn has recognized that the province’s employment laws “need to be updated for the world of 2017” while being conscious of how these changes could put a strain Ontario businesses.

Here’s what’s on the table:

  • Mandatory paid sick days.
  • Three weeks paid vacation, up from the current two weeks.
  • Overtime pay to kick in at 40 hours – down from the current 44 hours.
  • No lower minimum wage for students under 18 and those who serve alcohol.
  • Employers required pay part-time workers the same as full-time workers doing similar jobs.

Many measures are proposed specifically to protect those working casual and contract jobs:

  • Employers must post employees’ schedules in advance.
  • Workers to be compensated for last-minute schedule changes.
  • Only a portion of an employer’s workforce can be from temp agencies.

The amendments will also make it easier for employees of franchises and domestic workers employed in private homes to form unions, while banning or limiting the use of replacement workers during a strike. It’s European, as Jerry Seinfeld would say.

While that’s all fantastic for workers, Flynn has the difficult task of balancing these provisions with the interests of the business community. The economic reality is that any labour law improvements weaken Ontario’s competitive edge to attract business over, say, Michigan. Many critics of the proposed changes suggest the effect will be especially harsh for small businesses, who may be forced to lay off workers to offset increased labour expenditure.

Under Premier Kathleen Wynne, we can expect Flynn to favour the interests of the labour movement.

Look for future amendments to Ontario’s employment laws, about 25 years from now, to make it mandatory for robots who steal your job to file income tax.

Lloyd BraunLloyd Braun

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