The provincial government is considering reforms to Ontario employment law that could, “fundamentally change the relationship between every employer and employee in the province.”
Two years ago, the government launched the Changing Workplaces Review to investigate areas of potential change in Ontario employment law. The review began with public consutlations back in the sporing of 2015. Last year, advisors released a dense interim report with over 200 ideas for reform. Workers and businesses alike are bracing for the final report, which is expected to come out this year.
The Current State of Ontario Employment Law
The two main laws governing employment in Ontario are the Employment Standards Act and the Labour Relations Act. The ESA governs minimum wage, hours of work, overtime pay, vacation and sick leave, and parental leave in Ontario. The LRA concerns unionized workplaces and the process for unionization.
The legislature passed the original ESA in 1968, replacing a number of older laws like the Hours of Work and Vacations with Pay Act. Since then, the government has amended and changed the law several times. But there hasn’t been a major reform since Mike Harris was premier back in 2000.
That means the Employment Standards Act is almost 20 years out-of-date.
A lot has happened in those 20 years. Non-standard employment arrangements, like part-time and contract work, has grown faster than standard employment. Fewer and fewer workplaces offer pensions or other benefits. Job churn is now the status quo.
The Changing Workplaces Review is designed to find ways to address these changes and bring the Act in line with the current reality of working in Ontario.
Ideas for Reform
The Interim Report laid out over 200 recommendations for changes to Ontario employment law. Highlights include,
- Minimum number of paid sick days
- Requiring employers to give workers advanced notice of changes to their work schedule
- Increasing paid vacation from two weeks to three weeks
- Lowering the threshold for overtime pay from 44 hours to 40 hours
- Making it easier for franchise employees to unionize
The provincial Liberal government has yet to decide which policies – if any – will change.
Ontario Businesses React
Some of Ontario’s business leaders are way of these potential changes. The Vice President of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce says that, “Presently, the rules work for business.” He worries that changes will, “Add to the cost of doing business in Ontario.”
Ontario Labour Minister Kevin Flynn, the mind behind the review, disagrees. “I think you can treat employees well and still have a very strong economy”, he says, “The workplace that we have today – and that we’re bringing legislation into – isn’t the workplace of 1990.”