On May 23rd, 2017, the Ontario government released the recommendations of the Changing Workplaces Review. The Review was launched two years ago to research and identify areas of change in Ontario employment law, particularly the Employment Standards Act (ESA) and Labour Relations Act (LRA). Now, labour leaders and business leaders are debating the merits of these potential changes to Ontario workplaces.
The focus of the Changing Workplaces Review was how work has changed in the province since the last major reforms in 2000. In particular, the Review zeroed in on the rise of ‘precarious’ employment arrangements, which were non-standard twenty years ago but are now the norm for millions of Ontarians. While the number of full-time positions are decreasing, part-time and temporary contract work is on the rise. As Finance Minister Bill Morneau said last year, we have come to accept that people are moving from job-to-job and re-training throughout their careers.
In the end, the Changing Workplaces Review sets out a whopping 173 recommendations for changes to Ontario employment law, many of which aim to address the reality of precarious work conditions. The government does not need to implement these changes, but the Review will nonetheless set the stage for the debate around employment law in the 2018 provincial election.
Let’s look at some changes that could impact the most people in Ontario.
Equal Pay for Full and Part-Time Employees
There is nothing in the law that prevents employers from paying part-time, contract, and temporary employees less than full-time employees for performing the same job. With the rise in precarious work, this has created a serious disparity in some workplaces. . The Review recommends the ESA be amended to provide that employers cannot pay part-time employees at a lower rate than comparable full-time employees. The exception would be if there is another reason to pay part-time employees less, such as a seniority system, a merit system, a system that measures earnings by quality or quantity of production.
Increase Vacation Pay
Today, the ESA entitles most employees to receive two weeks of vacation for each 12 months of employment and vacation pay equal to at least 4% of wages earned during that year. The Review recommends increasing that to three weeks and at least 6% vacation pay for employees who have been with the same employer for five years.
More Sick Days
Employers who have over 50 workers must give their employees at least 10 days of unpaid, job-protected leave to deal with sickness, injury, or certain other personal emergencies. The ESA calls this ‘Personal Emergency Leave.’ The Review suggests all workers should receive seven days of sick leave, plus three days of bereavement leave (to deal with the death of a family member). Additionally, if the employer demands a doctor’s note from the employee to prove that he or she is sick, the employer should be obligated to pay for it.
Repeal Two-Tiered Minimum Wage for Students and Liquor Servers
Currently, the minimum wage for students under 18 and people who serve alcohol is currently lower than the overall minimum wage ($10.70 per hour for students and $9.90 for servers, instead of the overall minimum of $11.40). This disparity mainly impacts women.
The Review recommends eliminating this two-tired minimum wage system and entitling students and severs to collect the full minimum wage. However, it suggests these changes would be phased in over three years rather than taking effect immediately.
More Rights for Interns
Currently, employees classified as interns or trainees are exempt from many of the protections under the ESA. The Review recommends repealing that section of the act and treating interns the same as other employees.