Canadian Manufacturing

Changes to decades-old Ontario labour laws on horizon

Government overseeing review of province's labour laws as it aims to protect vulnerable workers from low pay, little vacation and lack of benefits



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Aimed at helping protect vulnerable workers, the Ontario government is consulting with stakeholders to put together a plan to make changes to the province’s labour laws

TORONTO—Labour Minister Kevin Flynn says the first review of the laws governing Ontario workplaces in decades will help protect a growing number of vulnerable workers.

An expert panel released an interim report July 27 on a joint review of the Employment Standards Act and the Labour Relations Act after holding public consultations and getting 200 submissions from employers, unions and workers.

Flynn says the fast pace of economic change, globalization, trade deals and technology resulted in more service sector and white-collar jobs in Ontario but fewer manufacturing jobs, changing the province’s labour market.

He’s worried young people and new Canadians are being taken advantage of by some “bad guys” who don’t provide adequate pay, vacations or benefits, especially in the retail, hospitality and construction sectors.

Flynn says the vast majority of Ontario employers, even in those sectors, do provide what the interim report refers to as “decency at work,” and make efforts to eliminate discrimination and consistently enforce employee rights.

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce says employers are concerned about how changes in labour laws would impact the cost of doing business, and want to see more education and enforcement of the rules.

“The government of Ontario should conduct a cost-benefit analysis to assess the impact on jobs and the economy for any changes to labour and employment legislation,” the business lobby said in a release.

The panel, which looked at everything from union certification rules to frequency of workplace inspections, will take comments on its interim report until October before it makes final recommendations.

“We have not yet come to any final consultations and have an open mind on all issues,” wrote special advisors C. Michael Mitchell and John C. Murray.

However, the panel made it clear it doesn’t want to hear the same old “well-known” arguments on issues such as union certification votes.

“It is unlikely that the repetition of these arguments will be of assistance now in coming to a final recommendation on the issue.”

Flynn doubts it still makes sense for the labour ministry to regularly inspect big corporations that treat their workers well, and even have people dedicated to ensure compliance with laws and regulations, when inspectors could be looking for unscrupulous employers who take advantage of vulnerable workers.

“What I’d like to see is to find the ability to spend much more time in those areas where people seem to think they can operate outside the law and there won’t be any consequence to it,” he said.

“I think there needs to be a consequence to it, and it comes across clearly in the report that any legislation or any statutory changes that may be envisioned by the report clearly must be aimed at the bad guys, while allowing the good guys as much flexibility as you possibly can to allow them to compete.”

The report found only 14 per cent of private sector workers in Ontario are represented by a union, compared with 70 per cent for the public sector, and said 87 per cent of workplaces have fewer than 20 employees.

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