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August 31, 2015

Labour Reform: Input Not Limited to Labour Types

Once-in-a-generation consultations underway in Ontario could lead to sweeping changes in the way the province regulates work. Earlier this year, Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals appointed two labour experts — former Ontario Superior Court judge John C. Murray and labour lawyer Michael Mitchell — to make recommendations about how to protect vulnerable workers in the twenty-first century.

Reforms are needed, because the current regulatory regime — the Employment Standards Act and the Labour Relations Act — was designed in an era before the rise of precarious service work, contract and temporary assignments, self-employment and paid labour in homes. These often come with unpredictable part-time hours, lack of job security, and no access to traditional benefits.

The Changing Workplace Review (as it’s called) is hearing from people across the province. Its first day of hearings, held in Toronto in June, was dominated by those whose professional or activist lives focus on labour and employment issues: the Workers Action Centre, the 15 For Fairness Campaign, and various unions and professional.

There is also an opportunity for those with expertise outside of labour and employment to have their voices heard. Anyone can contribute, and it would be shame if the opportunity were missed.

For instance, the Association of Ontario Health Centres made a presentation to the panel in June. They called for reforms, but focussed their submissions on the intersection of health care and work.

There’s no doubt that health and labour are related. And the Association of Ontario Health Centres isn’t the only health organization with ideas. The Ontario Medical Association, for example, is concerned about employees who show up to work even when they are sick, who increase the speed and seriousness of outbreaks. Last winter, the OMA also asked employers to stop asking for doctor’s notes for routine absences from colds and flus.

The ESA could easily be amended to regulate such circumstances. Without such regulation, labour adjudicators have typically found that doctor’s notes (and sometimes more detailed medical information) are fair game for employers, depending on the duration of the illness and the complexity of the accommodations or benefits requested by the employee. It’s a sliding scale, balancing the employer’s need to know against the employee’s privacy.

But of course, without regulations, employers have no clear guidance on what is acceptable, and employees have little leverage to say no.

The participation of medical experts is a potentially useful intervention in the Changing Workplace Review. It will be interesting to see what other groups of non-lawyers and non-labour specialists enter the debate.

In addition to hearings, the panel is accepting public input in writing until September 18, 2015. Submissions can be sent to the panel by:

E-mail: CWR.SpecialAdvisors@ontario.ca

Fax: 416-326-7650

Mail: Changing Workplaces Review
Employment Labour and Corporate Policy Branch,
Ministry of Labour
400 University Ave., 12th Floor
Toronto, ON M7A 1T7

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