|By David O’Brien,
Vice President, East Region & Government Services at Eagle
Ontario’s “Changing Workplace Review” is Complete — Here’s How It Could Affect Independent Contractors and Temporary Workers
The long awaited Changing Workplaces Review, initiated by the Ontario Government over two years ago to review the employment Standards Act, has unveiled its recommendations and Ontario business are braced for the government to adopt changes that many are concerned are based on “good politics, not good policy “.
The expected changes to Ontario’s Labour laws have the potential to be sweeping, wide in scope with 173 recommendations that include everything from minimum sick days, increased annual paid vacation, and workplace unionization. Although there were a number of presentations that proposed potential restrictions around the use of independent contractors, the final recommendations around contract labour were wisely few. Additionally, although not part of the changing Workplace Review, it’s expected the government will piggy back an increase to Ontario’s minimum wage on the proposed legislative changes adopted from the Review either this June before break or this September.
Many employer organizations worked with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce to ensure that there was a focus on the potential economic impact on these policy changes proposed and, although we are not sure what the Government will adopt, there is still uncertainty as to the veracity and thoroughness of what the real effect on Ontario’s economy will be.
We can recall several presentations to the Special Advisers that were focused on the use and definition of temporary labour; however, there was a definite slant towards an interpretation that temporary workers were deemed precarious or at risk workers and were in need of additional legislative protections. Central to this argument were some highly visible cases of situations involving temp workers in general staffing environments being wrongly taken advantage of. Athough a very tiny portion of a large and thriving industry we do have appropriate legislative corrective measures that should be enforced to combat this potential.
To combine the general staffing world with professional or knowledge workers was a dot that the Special Advisers were wisely never able to connect. Many in the Knowledge Worker world make a well thought out career choice to contract and there are many advantages associated with contracting in a necessary and thriving industry. Some of the measures presented and promoted in the 2 year review included limiting contracts to a maximum of 6 months in length, a % limit on the use of contingent labour, and a reverse onus on employee status such that all contract workers were deemed employees unless otherwise proven. These were all solutions for a problem that did not exist. It is very much welcome news that the Special Advisers recognized this and did not move forward with these restrictions.
We do know that legislative attempts making it harder for employers to access workers and workforce options are not a route to increased prosperity or productivity. We have certainly seen in both the UK and undoubtedly Southern Europe (while most of Northern Europe does the opposite and is in much better economic shape) where restrictions in flexibility in labour markets hurts one very important stakeholder: workers.
In a dynamic and highly competitive global market the ability to change, adapt and be flexible are all key components of a growing and prosperous economy. As the world transitions in to a new way of working, efforts to reverse that through policies deemed to appease in an election atmosphere for a tired government will no doubt back fire by making it more difficult for employers to access workers. Organizations will adjust to restrictions by ultimately hiring fewer, automating more or offshoring or expanding in other more competitive markets. The government really needs to understand the economic impact that potential job killing measures may have.
While we don’t know which of the measures will be adopted and ultimately put forward as legislation and no doubt campaign narratives, we do know that without a thorough understanding of labour market competitiveness we, are doomed to repeat mistakes we can’t afford in Ontario. One need look no further than the Governments “fix ” in Energy of the 2000’s and the upside down and and befuddled energy market and extreme costs Ontarioans business and personal are stuck with today.