Big changes considered for Ontario workplaces

Premier Kathleen Wynne's government is about to get advice that could lead to a significant shakeup of the laws governing work in Ontario.

Report could trigger the most sweeping reforms to employment and labour laws since the 1990s

Kathleen Wynne government ordered a review of workplace law 'to improve security and opportunity for those made vulnerable by the structural economic pressures and changes being experienced by Ontarians.' (Toronto Airport Workers Council)

Premier Kathleen Wynne's government is about to get advice that could lead to a significant shakeup of the laws governing work in Ontario. 

The Changing Workplaces Review is examining just about everything related to labour law in this province, including sick pay, overtime, how workers can join unions and employers' responsibilities to contract workers. 

It could trigger the most significant reforms to the Employment Standards Act and the Labour Relations Act since Mike Harris was premier. 

"The world of work that I went into as a young man is not the world of work that young people are going into today," Labour Minister Kevin Flynn said in an interview with CBC News. "We need to make sure that the regulations are protecting the most vulnerable."

The review is focusing on the new realities of the millennial workforce, including the spread of part-time and contract work. Noting that the province's current employment laws were drawn up in the 1990s, Flynn said they "need to be updated for the world of 2017." 

'Once-in-a-generation opportunity'

The review has been in the works for nearly two years, since the government appointed a pair of special advisers to recommend changes to Ontario's workplace laws.

Last July, the advisers laid out more than 200 options for reforms to protect vulnerable workers in precarious jobs. They include such ideas as requiring employers to give workers a minimum number of paid sick days, and to give workers advance notice of their shift schedules. 

Their final recommendations are due to be handed to Flynn in the coming days. 

The scope of the possible changes has the business community worried and the labour movement excited. 

It will be up to Labour Minister Kevin Flynn to decide whether to adopt any of the recommendations on changing Ontario's employment laws. ((The Canadian Press/Frank Gunn))

"It's a once-in-a-generation opportunity," said Ontario Federation of Labour president Chris Buckley. 

"When you look at the change in the employment landscape across the province, it's well overdue," Buckley said in an interview with CBC News. "Doing nothing is not an option."

The recommendations "could fundamentally change the relationship between every employer and employee in the province," said Karl Baldauf, vice-president of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. "We're challenging whether such sweeping reforms are necessary." 

Flynn promises that any changes will strike a balance. 

"What we need to achieve in this is to make sure that precarious and vulnerable workers have the protections they should have, at the same time ensure that Ontario still has a very competitive economy," Flynn said. 

Here are some of the options that the government's special advisers are considering: 

Sick pay, overtime, vacation pay, minimum wage

  • Making paid sick days mandatory. 
  • Boosting the minimum required paid vacation to three weeks per year from the current two weeks. 
  • Lowering the threshold at which overtime pay must kick in to 40 hours, down from the current 44 hours. 
  • Abolishing the lower minimum wage for students under 18 and people who serve alcohol.
  • Requiring employers to pay their part-time workers the same as full-time workers doing similar jobs. 
The Wynne government's advisers are considering whether employers should be forced to give workers advance notice of their schedules. (Simon Dawson/Bloomberg)

Casual and contract workers 

  • Forcing employers to post employees' schedules in advance. 
  • Compensating workers for last-minute schedule changes.
  • Limiting the proportion of an employer's workforce that can be from temp agencies.   


  • Banning or limiting the use of replacement workers during a strike.
  • Making it easier for the employees of franchises to form unions.   
  • Allowing domestic workers employed in private homes to form unions.

Employment Standards Act exemptions 

Under Ontario's employment laws, some rules, including those governing overtime, don't apply to certain types of jobs. The advisers are considering whether to lift any of these exemptions that currently apply to managers, janitors, IT professionals and residential care workers. They're also considering whether interns and trainees should be covered by the Employment Standards Act. 

Are you a worker who could benefit from changes to Ontario's employment laws? Are you an employer concerned that the changes could harm your business? Send us an email to tell us your story.  


Mike Crawley

Senior reporter

Mike Crawley covers provincial affairs in Ontario for CBC News. He began his career as a newspaper reporter in B.C., filed stories from 19 countries in Africa as a freelance journalist, then joined the CBC in 2005. Mike was born and raised in Saint John, N.B.