Response to the Report of the Ontario Workforce Recovery Advisory

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Queen's Park in Toronto, Ontario.

Hon. Monte McNaughton
Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development
400 University Avenue, 14th Floor
Toronto, ON M7A 1T7

Dear Minister McNaughton,

Our union read the Ontario Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee Report with great interest. We had hoped that the recommendations would provide a roadmap to improve working conditions in Ontario and focus on creating good jobs for working people. Unfortunately, while there are some promising ideas in the report, the recommendations will not move the needle far enough to, as you claim, “rebalance the scales and put Ontario workers and their families first for generations to come.”

The committee asserts that an overarching goal of the recommendations was to balance flexibility with fairness, and accountability with productivity. This is the wrong way to approach these questions in our view, as we believe accountability is a foundational element of sustained productivity and that control over flexibility is an important component of fairness for workers. In other words, neither pair of concerns should be framed as a mutually exclusive trade-off.

Overall, these recommendations will not put workers in the driver’s seat and many workers in Ontario will continue to see their working conditions deteriorate unless more far-reaching measures are undertaken.

Supporting Workers, Especially Platform Workers, by Providing Greater Flexibility, Control and Security

On the matter of providing greater flexibility, control and security for workers – particularly platform workers – the recommendations are insufficient to address growing precarity in the province. For example, the recommendation to include gig and platform workers under a new dependent contractor designation and to provide them with basic employment rights is one that Unifor clearly supports, but only if these workers have the right to form a union in order to redress common grievances and seek better working conditions above the bare minimum. The recommendations are also unclear whether gig or platform workers would automatically fall under this new dependent contractor designation. The onus must be on employers to prove whether such workers meet the test of independent contractor status. Additionally, the onus on employers to prove workers are not employees, that was repealed from the Employment Standards Act in 2018, must be restored.

Furthermore, to ensure that gig and platform workers are able to better negotiate their conditions of work, the Labour Relations Act should explicitly set out avenues for broader-based multi-employer bargaining that would permit the negotiation of terms by way of collective table or sectoral tables for gig workers in specific sectors.

While the companies operating in this space may be global conglomerates, they compete for a share of the market at the local level. Setting a higher floor for working conditions on which all companies compete does not disadvantage any one company but simply elevates workers’ standard of living.

There are also many workers outside of the gig economy who have very little control over their working lives. This is particularly true in long-term care and hospitality sectors where employees commonly work split shifts or have shifts at multiple facilities to make ends meet. If these recommendations are truly to set the province on the path to an improved recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, these issues must be addressed with fair scheduling legislation and stronger efforts to retain workers in health care through higher wages, improved benefits and better working conditions.

The committee’s recommendation to deal with temporary help agencies simply states that the provincial government must be more clear in communicating the fact that temp agencies and employers who use temporary help agencies must follow the law. This is insufficient to deal with the employment problems and exploitation created by the widespread use of temporary help agencies. Workers in these arrangements are often treated as expendable and work in a permanent state of precarity. Employers must be required to hire workers on a permanent basis for roles that need filling on a permanent basis instead of leaving them in a perpetual state of limbo.

Finally, there are no recommendations in this section around the need to increase enforcement. It is our experience that governments at all levels do not enforce the labour standards and rules which are already in place. Creating new rules with no effort to enforce them totally undermines the effort to create a stronger labour market and a better outlook for the future of work in Ontario.

Ensuring that Ontario Remains the Best Place in North America to Recruit, Retain and Reward Workers

On the subject of creating recruiting, retaining and rewarding workers, we applaud the focus on training and life-long learning. However, we argue that many of the recommendations need to be clarified and improved on in order to improve their efficacy and impact.

For example, developing a training benefit that aligns with the federal Canada Training Benefit is a step in the right direction, but we have found the CTB to be substantially lacking in funding and accessibility, both of which are needed to ensure workers can attain the training they need to excel in the future world of work. Unifor has made substantial recommendations to improve the program, including extending the number of weeks for which the benefit is available, increasing the expenses that are covered to include important items like textbooks and child care, increasing the income replacement amount and eliminating the age limit.

Micro-credentials and on-the-job training require more research and significantly more details. Unifor agrees there should be no age limit on access to funding for life-long learning, that employers should invest in more on-the-job training and that micro-credentialing deserves closer examination. However, there are not enough details to suggest who will fund this, whether or not micro-credentials will be implemented in the public realm or by private interests and whether employers will provide quality, paid on-the-job training, which will be subsequently followed by improvements in compensation and working conditions for workers.

Recent reporting on the significant issues that students in private training facilities have experienced in the long-term care sector serve as a grave warning and suggest the need for caution in how government designs and implements training programs. Public-private partnerships degrade public services, frequently have hidden costs and do not deliver on the promises they make.

A world-class workforce can only come about as a result of quality education, particularly at the post-secondary level where key skills and competencies are developed. A robust and comprehensive skills training program must include access to free public, post-secondary education, be integrated with Employment Insurance (EI), and should include additional components such as skills assessments, worker-focused training requirements and income supports while people are receiving training.

Likewise, the committee appears to rely heavily on the capacity of privately developed technology to better connect people to potential jobs, by launching challenge-based programs, apps and virtual platforms. While these may be useful for  some people who already have the tools to connect in this way, there are thousands workers who lack access to broadband, face high internet costs, and face language and other barriers to accessing the tools needed to access and utilize such technology. The true challenge is to ensure there are equal opportunities to learn and expand one’s skillset, while earning a good wage under decent working conditions.

All of the recommendations above on training and skills development must be underpinned by multi-stakeholder skills and development strategy tables to ensure that the programs developed are useful, timely, and ultimately successful.

In theory, the recommendation to create a portable benefit is one that Unifor supports; however, the devil is in the details and more work must be done before we support this recommendation. First, the benefit must be paid for by employers. Second, it must be fully funded to ensure workers can actually gain access to the benefits. Weak benefit plans with low levels of coverage will not change the situation for workers in this province.

Finally, the committee provided very few recommendations on the topic of retention. Just as there needs to be a strategy to increase skills in the province, there must be a strategy to keep jobs in Ontario, which is entirely lacking in the committee’s report. Another item missing is the need to strengthen employment standards to increase retention rates through provisions for decent work, which includes fair scheduling regulations, equal treatment provisions, pay equity, protections for migrant workers and paid sick days.

Making Ontario the Top Destination with a World-Class Workforce and Talent Supply

On the subject of becoming a top-destination for talent, we support the implementation of fulsome right to disconnect laws. However, the province’s recently adopted legislation only requires a written policy to be in place rather than prescribing the rights for workers to disconnect during off-hours. Forthcoming regulatory exemptions for different classes of workers may further water down the law to render it virtually meaningless. The presence of right to disconnect laws must also be supported by stringent enforcement to ensure that workers who abide by them are not penalized.

The recommendation to develop stronger transportation and communication infrastructure is incredibly important and must be expanded to explicitly include the following:

  • Zero-emissions public transit infrastructure and high-speed passenger rail;
  • Signing on to the Federal government’s child care program;                
  • Universal pharmacare; and
  • Affordable housing.

Using technology to increase access to health care services is necessary, but not sufficient to ensure access to health care in remote regions or where doctors are not currently taking on new patients.

Furthermore, broadband must not only be made available across the province but must also be made affordable and provide stable, high-speed connectivity. The Ontario government has already announced investments in this area but must now ensure that broadband is truly accessible to everyone, not just high-income earners who choose to live in rural and remote communities.

Moving Forward

As you move forward designing important improvements to the future of work in Ontario, we hope that you keep in mind the vital goal of creating of good, unionized jobs for Ontarian workers.

Many of the recommendations suggested in the OWRAC report are unfortunately vague and only amount to half measures. If the Ontario government underfunds or privatizes labour programs or undermines good jobs through regulatory loopholes it will inevitably fail to achieve its stated goal of creating a better world of work.

Effective labour reform must ultimately ensure that precarious jobs with low wages and little to no job security become good jobs, by raising labour standards for all workers and ensuring that employers cannot shirk their responsibilities through misclassification and a lack of enforcement. Most importantly, all workers must have the right to join a union and access to free collective bargaining so that they can further improve their working conditions.

You recently spoke about the need to improve work for the people of Ontario and of a desire to be the party of the working people. In that respect, actions are more important than words. We urge you to be far more ambitious in your plan of action by going beyond the half measures identified in this report and implementing policies that do not trade control for flexibility, but which create the conditions for both in order to truly secure shared prosperity for all workers in Ontario.


Naureen Rizvi
Unifor Ontario Regional Director