Ontario workers in precarious employment positions could have their wages brought in line with full-time colleagues, and employers may be able to assign overtime more easily in the coming months, as Queen's Park prepares to respond to the findings of an independent review of the province's labour laws.
Helmed by labour-law veterans C. Michael Mitchell and John C. Murray, the Changing Workplace Review report was commissioned to update Ontario's Employment Standards Act, Labour Relations Act and Occupational Health and Safety Act after several decades of economic, technological and workplace changes.
While the final report's release on Tuesday ends nearly two years of speculation over what the authors would recommend, it's left both the business and labour communities apprehensive – not just because of disagreements with its recommendations, but also the lack of clarity for a path forward.
Concrete changes for Ontario's employers and employees remain to be seen until the province issues its response, which should come "within the next week," Labour Minister Kevin Flynn said. Even then, the review's recommendation to form committees to address hot-button issues – such as shift scheduling in the retail and fast-food sectors – will only extend uncertainty for many businesses and workers.
The report makes 173 recommendations, including:
- Part-time, casual, temporary and seasonal employees should be paid the same as full-time colleagues if they do the same work.
- The province ought to develop both a policy framework and sector-specific committees to address this and other contentious issues, with the retail and fast-food sectors as priorities.
- To ease overtime needs for employers, they should no longer need to seek approval from the Ministry for employees working 48 to 60 hours a week.
- After five years at the same workplace, employees should get at least three weeks of vacation.
- While expanded paid sick-leave rights would be ideal, “the more important first step” would be first to extend unpaid emergency leave to all workers, regardless of company size; employees should be entitled to seven days of that leave annually, with exceptions made for bereavement; and those days can be used if the employee or their child is a victim of domestic abuse.
- If 20 per cent of employees in a bargaining unit support a union, employers should give them the full list of names and contact information of employees in the bargaining unit.
- More occupations should be allowed to unionize, including domestic workers, hunters and trappers, as well as architectural, dental, land surveying, legal and medical professionals.
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce said Tuesday that the government should hold back from enshrining the report's recommendations into law before doing a full economic assessment of their potential impacts.
Karl Baldauf, the chamber vice-president of government relations, said the "obvious" costs to businesses could have drastic impacts. "How can we make sure that we're safeguarding ourselves and our workers from potential job losses, and preventing our companies from continuing to be competitive?" he said in an interview.
The hospitality industry, in particular, was skeptical of many recommendations that were originally considered, including the possibility of rigid scheduling rules that would make it difficult to keep employees on call or to change shifts on short notice.
The final report instead kicked the issue down the road by suggesting a committee of sector-specific stakeholders design such regulations.
Fred Luk, owner of Fred's Not Here restaurant in Toronto, hopes the province doesn't tighten those rules for businesses such as his, which often must change staffing based on customer traffic. "We need that flexibility to survive," he said.
But many of the recommendations, including those mandating increased vacation, would hurt small hospitality businesses such as his with sales of $1-million to $2-million a year and margins of just 2 to 4 per cent. "We cannot afford these kinds of changes," Mr. Luk said.
Disappointment rang clear from the labour community, too. Chris Buckley, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, said he had a long list of frustrations with the report – including that it stopped short of suggesting mandatory paid sick leave or extension of just-cause protection for all workers .
Mr. Buckley hopes Ontario goes above and beyond what the report suggests, or otherwise "it's a missed opportunity to improve the lives of Ontario workers."
A spokesman for Mr. Flynn said the Labour Minister would not speak to media until the government releases its response. But in a statement Tuesday morning, he said that, after reading the final report, he and his colleagues found that "responsible change can ensure that every hard-working person in our province has the chance to reach their full potential."
The report did not make any suggestions to change the province's basic minimum wage from $11.40, although it did recommend raising the rates for students and liquor servers, who are generally paid lower.