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More than two years after Ontario’s Minister of Labour initiated it, the Changing Workplaces Review has issued its final report.  And depending on how (or if) the current Liberal government chooses to implement its 173 recommendations, employment in the province could look quite different a year from now.  As the authors describe their work:

These changes would benefit workers directly, and employers and society in general.  Employees will benefit from a better workplace and an enhanced ability to assert their basic rights.  Employers will benefit from happier and more productive workplaces and from more robust enforcement.  Better enforcement will help to ensure that employers that play by the rules do not experience unfair competition from those that do not.  Responsible, law-abiding businesses, that represent a vast majority of employers, are entitled to compete on a level playing field.  All parties will benefit from a better knowledge and understanding of basic rights and obligations.

That sounds pretty awesome, right?  But before you break out the champagne, take a look at some of the recommendations for changes to the Labour Relations Act, 1995.

Recommendations:

  • Permit formerly excluded groups of employees to join unions, including domestics, hunters and trappers, professionals such as architects, dentists and lawyers (!), and agricultural/horticultural employees.
  • Maintain secret ballot votes for unionization (whew!), but…

“We recommend preservation of the secret ballot process for certification provided there are appropriate remedies for employer misconduct.”

  • Require the Labour Board to impose automatic certification and first contract arbitration where employers threaten or intimidate employees to try to avoid unionization, eliminating the option of a second vote as a remedial measure, and
  • Require employers to share contact information for employees where a union can show a minimum level of support …

“If the union or other employees cannot communicate effectively with the electorate, or if only the employer can communicate, there is a barrier to accessing meaningful collective bargaining.  Otherwise, the result is a flawed democratic process.”

  • The recommended minimum level of demonstrated union support (presumably by signed union membership cards) to require disclosure of employee contact information is 20% of the potential bargaining unit.
  • In sectors where union representation has historically been low, the OLRB should have the power to consolidate existing and/or newly unionized locations involving the same employer and the same union. This would be expected to support effective collective bargaining relationships.
  • In the franchise sector, where union representation has historically been low, franchisees of the same franchisor would be treated as a single employer with multiple locations for the purposes of collective bargaining [for more on issues affecting franchises, see Chris Sinal’s blog here.]
  • Maximum fines for contravention of the LRA should be increased to $5,000 for individuals and $100,000 for employers and unions.

There is no question that the changes recommended are intended to make it easier for unions to obtain bargaining rights, particularly in historically underrepresented sectors.  If implemented by the Wynne government (or its successor?), the balance of power in labour law will shift even more in favour of unions and employees.

The Report also makes many recommendations related to employment standards, such as changes to protected leaves and vacation entitlements.  For more on those issues, see Mary Lou Brady’s blog here.

And if you have time for an interesting read (seriously – it’s very well written and a fascinating overview of work in this province at this point in our history) the Summary Report is here.

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