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Employers and businesses both big and small are being told to be on the lookout for upcoming changes to Ontario’s employment and labour legislation framework. Employers and employees must ask themselves, however, how imminent are these changes?

Ontario’s Changing Workplaces Review is a project that advises the Ontario government on a variety of issues pertinent to the provincial workforce, including overtime, the ability to unionize, vacation pay, sick pay, shift scheduling and casual/contract workers.  The initiative forms part of the government’s reaction to the rise in precarious employment and perceived increase in the number of so-called “vulnerable” workers in the Ontario work force.

However, the project has been in the works for over two years already, with an initial advisory team recommending changes to employment standards and labour relations legislation. In July 2016, the advisors produced an Interim Report, in which over 200 proposed changes were made.

Some examples of these proposals include the following:

  • Removal of a differentiated minimum wage for students under 18 and people who serve alcohol;
  • Making paid sick days mandatory;
  • Increasing the statutory vacation minimum from two weeks to three weeks and changing the overtime threshold from 44 hours to 40 hours;
  • Measures to make it easier for employees, including live-in caregivers, to unionize;
  • Measures to require employers to give advance notice of scheduling and compensation for changes in shifts for casual, contract and part-time workers.

It appears that the review is specifically targeted at examining “non-standard employment”, which includes involuntary part-time, temporary work, self-employment and people with multiple jobs. The Interim Report states that employee advocates are asserting that too many employees are misclassified by employers as independent contractors, resulting in substandard working conditions and the denial of statutory rights and protections. The Interim Report further articulates that many employee advocates and unions submit that Ontario’s Employment Standards Act, 2000 should be rejigged such that it is applicable to dependent contractors.

At this stage, these are merely proposed changes, and it will be ultimately up to the Minister of Labour to determine which of the changes should be integrated into the legislation and what will remain the same. Any changes will likely take a substantial amount of time to implement. Despite the media buzz, Ontario is still in the very early stages of any further workplace reform.

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