Ontario announces amendments to construction industry provisions of Labour Relations Act

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On April 25, 2000, the Ontario government introduced Bill 69, the Labour Relations Amendment Act (Construction Industry), 2000. The legislation, introduced in the name of increasing competitiveness and job creation in the province’s construction industry, affects both the residential and the industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) sectors of the industry. (For more recent developments, see “Construction industry reform off, then on again” on our Publications page.)

LOCAL COMPETITIVE DISADVANTAGES

The Bill provides a process for modifying province-wide collective agreements in the ICI sector when the terms of those agreements place unionized contractors in some regions of the province at a competitive disadvantage vis-a-vis non-union contractors. Employer groups will be able to apply to local unions for amendments to the agreement. The amendments are restricted to wages and benefits, hiring provisions, accommodation and travel allowances and the ratio of apprentices to journeyman.

The employer’s application must outline the kind of work, the specified market and the geographic area to which the amendments would apply, and must document how the provincial agreement renders it uncompetitive with respect to the work to which the amendments would apply.

The parties have 14 days to reach an agreement on the amendments, failing which the employer may then refer the matter to an arbitrator. Both parties must submit their final offers, along with supporting documentation, to the arbitrator. The hearing is conducted by way of written submissions, but the arbitrator may convene an oral or electronic hearing if he or she believes it necessary.

The arbitrator must render a written decision within 12 days of being appointed. The decision is to state whether the employer is at a competitive disadvantage due to the collective agreement, and if so, whether any of the parties’ final offers would remove the disadvantage. If only one offer removes the disadvantage, the arbitrator must choose that offer. If no offer removes the disadvantage, the arbitrator must select the offer that comes closest to doing so. If both offers remove the disadvantage, the offer that deviates least from the provincial agreement is to be selected. The arbitrator shall not issue reasons for the decision.

LABOUR MOBILITY

The Bill would permit an ICI sector employer to hire up to 40 percent of the workers on a specific project from outside the area where the project is located. Further, the employer could hire up to 60 percent of the remaining workers from the local union, but without going through the hiring hall process. However, if the provincial agreement bars the use of non-union labour, the agreement prevails. The parties are free to negotiate lower or higher percentages in each case.

“KEY MAN” PROVISIONS

“Key man” refers to an individual whose expertise is so significant that it is considered the main business asset for the purpose of related employer applications and sale of a business determinations. Some in the construction industry have expressed concern that the Ontario Labour Relations Board has determined whether an individual is key to an operation in a manner that hinders the formation of new companies and the mobility of personnel between companies. Bill 69 sets out the criteria to be applied by the Board for determining who is “key” in related employer and sale of a business hearings.

TORONTO AREA RESIDENTIAL CONSTRUCTION AMENDMENTS

The reforms of the residential sector are restricted to the Greater Toronto Area. Driven by a series of six consecutive strikes that hampered new home construction in the Toronto area in 1998, the legislation provides that collective agreements for all the trades will expire at the same time – April 30, 2001. Negotiations for all the agreements will occur simultaneously. Strikes and lockouts are restricted to the period between May 1 to June 15, 2001, on which date either party may refer the dispute to binding arbitration. The common expiry date will run in three-year cycles, with the next expiry date being April 30, 2004.

For further information, please contact George Rontiris at (613) 563-7660, Extension 275.