Ontario passes amendments to employment and labour laws – new protections for injured workers, firefighters and broader public sector

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The Ontario government has passed amending legislation to strengthen employee rights under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997 (WSIA), the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, 1997 (FPPA), and the Public Sector Labour Relations Transition Act, 1997 (PSLRTA).  Bill 109, referred to as the Employment and Labour Statute Law Amendment Act, 2015, received Royal Assent on December 10, 2015.

Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997

Bill 109 amends the WSIA to prohibit any actions that would discourage a worker from filing a claim for benefits, or that would influence a worker to withdraw or abandon a claim.  A new regulatory monetary penalty will apply for contraventions of this provision which will be in addition to any fine imposed by a court.  The maximum fines for offences under the WSIA are increased from $100,000 to $500,000 for non-individuals such as corporations.

A new methodology applies for the determination of WSIA death benefits for injuries that occurred on or after January 1, 1998, where the worker has no net average earnings on the date of the injury.  The deemed net average earnings provision will be repealed, and instead, the Board can take into account the average earnings of a person engaged in the same trade, occupation, profession or calling as the deceased worker at the time of the injury.  This change has retroactive effect and will permit survivors to refile claims with the WSIB and to request re-consideration of decisions under the WSIA that have already been rendered.

Finally, the WSIA is amended to require the WSIB to appoint an ombudsman, referred to as the Fair Practices Commissioner, to investigate complaints and make recommendations.

The proposed amendments to the WSIA come into effect upon Royal Assent.

Fire Protection and Prevention Act, 1997

Bill 109 makes a number of significant changes to the labour relations provisions of the FPPA.  The amendments introduce prohibitions for a number of unfair labour practices similar to those found in the Labour Relations Act.  These include prohibitions against interference with associations, member rights, or bargaining rights.  These amendments are enhanced by a revised process for complaints to the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB), and an expedited arbitration process whereby the Minister of Labour could appoint an arbitrator to resolve grievances, similar to section 49 under the Ontario Labour Relations Act.

The Bill 109 amendments permit bargaining associations to require collective agreement language providing for mandatory membership, association due deductions, and preference of employment for members.  These requirements are limited by proposed protections for fire fighters that are expelled, suspended, or denied membership, based on a number of grounds set out in the amendments.  These grounds include where the firefighter is a member of another association, or where the firefighter has engaged in reasonable dissent.  In such circumstances, an association could not require an employer to discharge such a firefighter. Similarly, new provisions introduced by Bill 109 would permit the Board to exempt a firefighter from joining an association or paying dues for religious reasons.

The amendments to the FPPA come into force upon Royal Assent, however, some provisions have retroactive effect and apply immediately to matters before the OLRB or an arbitrator, provided in either case that a decision had not been rendered as of May 28, 2015, when Bill 109 was first introduced.

Public Sector Labour Relations Transition Act, 1997 (PSLRTA)

Bill 109 amends the PSLRTA to add a new exception to the requirement to hold a vote in the event of a restructuring in the broader public sector.  The exemption applies where one bargaining agent represented a prescribed percentage of the employees in the restructured bargaining unit.  In such a case, the Board will appoint that bargaining agent as the bargaining agent for all of the employees in the new bargaining unit without the need to hold a vote.  The exact percentage has yet to be set out, however, the amendments provide that it must be more than 60%.  The amendments also empower the Board to determine disputes arising from the proposed new exception.  The amendments to the PSLRTA come into effect six months after Royal Assent.

For further information please contact Jacques Emond at 613-940-2730.