Unifor proposes to modernize Ontario labour laws around precarious work

Benefits, stable scheduling, full-time opportinities, among submissions

TORONTO — Unifor is proposing sweeping changes to Ontario employment standards and labour laws to better reflect the reality of modern work in an era of precarious, low-paying part-time jobs, and to give more Ontario workers a fair chance to form a union.

"Work today is becoming increasingly precarious. For more and more Ontarians, particularly young workers, the prospect of a job with regular hours — or even enough hours to support a family — seems out of reach," said Katha Fortier, regional director, Unifor, Ontario.

Unifor is releasing its submission to the Ontario government's Changing Workplace Review publicly today, the opening day of the annual Ontario Economic Summit in Niagara on the Lake. 

A total of 43 specific recommendations reflect input from Unifor locals across Ontario, many of which appeared before the advisors in public consultation meetings over the summer and fall.

The full submission includes several proposed changes to the Employment Standards Act, to provide better protection for workers facing precarious and irregular jobs. 

Shift scheduling that provide workers with more stability in scheduling and more opportunity for full-time work, making employers jointly responsible for the actions of temp agencies, access to prorated employment benefits (such as health and insurance protections) for part-time workers, and a more pro-active and independent approach to the enforcement of employment standards (including greater scope for independent third-party investigations of ESA violations) are among proposed changes.

The changes to the Labour Relations Act aim to modernize the process of union certification and first contract negotiation, including innovative proposals for the use of electronic union voting, holding certification votes in neutral locations, and expanded arbitration systems to help establish first contracts in newly-unionized workplaces. Union is also proposing the maintenance of union security and provisions when contracted services are flipped.

Other proposals include that workers in non-union workplaces be given explicit legal protection to engage in collective action in pursuit of their economic objectives (mirroring similar protections that exist in U.S. law).

"Too many workers today face a future of one bad, insecure job after anotherm often holding down more than one job at any one time as they try to make enough money. They are so depndent on those jobs that tehy are hesitant to speak out, as is their right, for fear they'll lose what work they have," said Fortier.

The union has also developed a far-reaching proposal to establish sector-wide employment standards and contract provisions, covering both unionized and non-union workers, that would establish better employment practices in specific sectors facing especially unfavourable or insecure conditions (such as fast food workers or freelance workers) .

"The barriers to joining with co-workers to form a union thwart far too many workers. And a race to the bottom across whole sectors of our economy makes getting ahead all the more difficult," Fortier said.

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