Ontario labour law reform promises higher wages, easier organizing

The Ontario government wants to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and make it easier for employees to unionize.

The proposed changes were announced May 30 under the banner of “Fair workplaces, better jobs." 

“The announcement ... is a bold first step to modernize Ontario’s employment laws,” Unifor President Jerry Dias said. “The government has demonstrated that it has heard the concerns of Ontario’s most vulnerable workers and is now committed to taking action.”

The most significant change is increasing the minimum wage in Ontario by 32 per cent. If the legislation is approved, the minimum wage would go up to $14 an hour on Jan. 1 2018 and up to $15 on Jan. 1, 2019. The minimum wage would be attached to the inflation rate, thereafter. Rates for students under 18 and servers would also go up, although the government stopped short of bringing those workers on par with other minimum-wage workers.

Part-time, contract and temporary workers would also have to be paid equally for equal work to their full-time counterparts, although factors such as seniority, merit and “other” can come into play. Companies will have to give workers who’ve been with the company for at least five years three weeks of vacation, and all workers will be able to access 10 emergency-leave days, two of which the company will be compelled to pay for.

There would also be tighter rules around shift scheduling and working on call. Workers whose shifts are cancelled with less than 48 hours notice would have to be paid for three hours of work, and workers who are expected to be on-call would also have to be paid for three hours of work.

Changes to rules around unionizing would be significant for workers in some sectors. Temporary workers, building-services workers and home and community-care workers would be able to organize through card-based certification.

As well, unions would be able to get employee lists from employers if they can show that they have the support of at least 20 per cent of the workforce. The government will also prioritize setting bargaining dates for first contracts over dealing with union decertifications.

Other changes include prohibiting employers from requiring doctor’s notes for sick days, increasing time off for family medical leaves and doubling the number of workplace inspectors to ensure that the law is upheld.

The new rules are to be introduced to the legislature in early June and are expected to become law by 2018.