The Ontario Legislature has introduced Bill 109: the Employment and Labour Statute Law Amendment Act, 2015, (the “ELSLAA”) which, if passed, will amend three separate acts impacting workers and labour relations in Ontario: the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, the Public Sector Labour Relations Act, and the Fire Prevention and Protection Act.
The Workplace Safety and Insurance Act (WSIA)
Proposed amendments to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act potentially increase the amount of survivor benefits paid out under the compensation regime. Instead of being limited to statutory minimums, the survivor benefit calculation would be based on the average earnings of the deceased worker’s occupation at the time of diagnosis. The proposed amendments would also bolster worker protection against employer interference and reprisals in the claim filing and the claim management process. In line with these changes, the maximum fine against corporate employers for a conviction under the WSIA would quintuple to $500,000.
The Public Sector Labour Relations Act (PSLRA)
The government has proposed changes to the PSLRA in an effort to reduce potential disruption in the broader public sector when there are changes to bargaining units following a restructuring or amalgamation. In brief, the amendments provide that a vote to determine a new bargaining unit is not required if a “prescribed percentage” of employees in the bargaining unit were previously represented by a single union. It is not clear at the moment what the exact “prescribed percentage” would be, but it must be greater than sixty percent.
The Fire Prevention and Protection Act (FPPA)
In its press release dated May 28, 2015, the Ontario government described its objective in amending the FPPA as follows: “[To] provide more dispute resolution tools for the professional fire services sector by allowing labour relations disputes to be heard by the Ontario Labour Relations Board as opposed to the Ontario Courts.” With respect, the proposed amendments are broader than this. Significant elements of the Labour Relations Act (LRA) would be incorporated into the FPPA. Mirroring the unfair labour practice provisions of the LRA, the amendments would explicitly prevent employers from interfering with the collective bargaining rights of Firefighter Associations. Similarly, employers would be explicitly prohibited from threatening or intimidating employees who were exercising their rights under the FPPA. The amendments would also protect Firefighter Associations’ right to bargain for superior union security in their collective agreements, such as clauses related to the mandatory payment of union dues and “closed shop” provisions. The amendments would also grant the Ontario Labour Relations Board jurisdiction to hear labour disputes and would create an expedited arbitration mechanism much like section 49 of the LRA.
In addition, the amendments address (somewhat) the job security of firefighters who may run afoul of their Firefighter Associations. To this end, the amendments provide some job protection for firefighters who engage in “reasonable activity against” or “reasonable dissent within” a Firefighter Association and who are denied membership, or are expelled/suspended as a result.
Miller Thomson will continue to monitor the progress of Bill 109 as it moves through the Legislature.