Here’s what Ontario’s proposed labour relations changes could mean for employers
By Howard Levitt
If adopted, the proposals contained in the recently released interim report to amend Ontario’s Labour Relations Act, 1995, and Employment Standards Act, 2000, The Changing Workplaces Review, by Premier Kathleen Wynne, would make the province the most radical left-wing environment for businesses in the Western world, and would go a long way toward ensuring that no foreign business would ever again invest in it.
The rationale for the report appears predicated upon Ontario employers purportedly shirking their employment standards obligations and exploiting largely minimum wage workers. As the Toronto Star exposed, even when there is an Order to Pay by the Employment Standards Branch (ESB), most employers simply ignore it, (often because they are insolvent and can’t).
Abuse of employment standards is serious but should be dealt with by tightening legislative loopholes and rigorous enforcement. Instead, this government has used these abuses as a pretense to create a wholesale shift of power to Ontario unions and demolish what few employer rights remain.
The proposed legislation would lead to increasing insolvencies by marginal employers, which are the root cause of non payment to employees in the first instance. Short of the government paying these workers on insolvent employers’ behalf, which this debt and deficit ridden government cannot afford, there is no other solution.
At the end of the day, there is little else one can do about recovering monies from bankrupt businesses, other than making their officers and directors liable for unpaid wages, of which they are already.
Here are some of these proposed options (changes):
To the Labour Relations Act
— Almost everyone can get unionized — lawyers, architects, domestic workers in private homes, the list goes on.
— More ominously, one proposal would allow employees to unionize by just signing membership cards rather than voting. (This, a product of the years Bob Rae was in power as a New Democrat, was eliminated by the conservative government of Mike Harris.) The days when unions took employees to alcohol-fuelled functions and often intimidated them into signing union cards, which many barely understood, could return.
— To make it easier, they are proposing handing unions copies of employee lists. (So much for privacy rights.) History has shown unions are not likely to win votes but, if they can be certified based simply on signed cards, it is relatively easy to succeed. This legislation will change the rate of unionization.
— If there is an unfair labour practise in a workplace, the union can be certified without having to show it has “adequate support for collective bargaining.” Meaning, a 60 employee shop could potentially be certified with just one supporter. Precisely this occurred to Royal Shirt under the Bob Rae government.
— Employers with common ownership to unionized companies can also be automatically certified as a related employer without the union having to prove there is any “common control and direction between them.”
— Another proposal would prevent employers from bringing in replacement workers, taking away their ability to continue operating during a strike, and thus destroying their accordant bargaining power during negotiations. In strikes where the union cannot quickly get what it wants, another proposal provides the right to call in an interest arbitrator to settle the new collective agreements after 30 days. Such arbitrators have granted the generous wages and benefits of the province’s public sector employees.
— With all of the above changes it would be seamlessly simple for unions to obtain new certifications, particularly if they are insulated from votes, so that management never gets to tell its side of the story before the union is certified. They can also promise the employees the likelihood of significant wage and benefit increases in a way that they cannot now.
For non-union employees
The balance of power, under the new options, would also dramatically shift for employees who are not unionized. The proposed changes include:
— Overtime pay at time and a half would start after 40, not 44, hours and would include supervisors, IT professionals and other groups presently exempt.
— Paid sick and other leave. Presently, although some employers provide some paid leave, there is no legal requirement to do so.
— Franchisors will be responsible for employment standards (ESA) violations by their franchisees and employers will be responsible for such violations by contractors.
— Minimum vacation pay will be increased to three weeks.
— Employers who do not make employment standard payments could have their permits, operating licence and even drivers’ licence revoked.
A brave new world indeed. A world where jobs will leave the province at an unprecedented rate.