In its July 14, 2014 Throne Speech, the Ontario government announced that it intended to adapt itself to the changing work environment.

As mentioned by the government, when the economy evolves, so must the workplace. This is why it is committed to soliciting the participation of the province's population to determine how its labour laws can continue to protect workers while supporting businesses in today's modern economy.

In keeping with this commitment, the Ontario government announced on Feb. 17 that it will be holding consultations in the spring of 2015 to look at what changes can be made to the Labour Relations Act, 1995 and the Employment Standards Act, 2000.

The Labour Relations Act, 1995 is the legislative instrument that governs collective labour relations, from certification to collective bargaining, and provides for various recourses to employers, unions and unionized employees in the context of labour relations disputes.

The Employment Standards Act, 2000 and its regulations provide for a complete regulatory framework governing minimum terms and conditions of employment such as minimum wages, working hours, vacation, statutory holidays, overtime as well as  rights and obligations arising from the termination of employment.

Workplace trends that will be examined include:

  • increasingly non-standard working relationships, such as temporary jobs, part-time work and self-employment;
  • the rising prominence of the service sector;
  • globalization and trade liberalization;
  • accelerating technological changes; and,
  • greater workplace diversity.

Two special advisors will lead the consultations: C. Michael Mitchell, formerly of Sack Goldblatt Mitchell LLP, and the Honourable John C. Murray, former justice of the Superior Court of Ontario and prominent labour lawyer.

Both the timetable and consultation process remain undetermined. However, Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn indicated that the advisors will provide guidelines on the engagement process and solicit input from the public by participating in regional consultations, holding targeted stakeholder meetings and soliciting written submissions. They will also examine academic and inter-jurisdictional research on the changing workplace.

According to the Ontario government, this review of the changing nature of the workplace is part of the government's economic plan for Ontario. The advisors will submit a written report, with recommendations, following the consultation period.

Union response was immediate and appeared unanimous in the belief that major changes, including making unionization easier, are needed to address job insecurity in Ontario.  For employers, future changes will undoubtedly have an impact on the exercise of their management rights and could directly or indirectly increase payroll-related costs.

We will be following closely this public consultation over the next few months and keeping you informed of the recommendations and changes that are likely to affect Ontario businesses.