Tuesday, April 16, 2024
Opinion/Column

Ontario’s very quiet labour consultation during the Dog Days of Summer – with July 31 deadline

Graphic provided by OFL

Ontario’s Labour Minister Monte McNaughton has appointed a special committee which is conducting an online consultation on “the Future of Work.” The consultation closes on July 31st.

The province’s eventual goals are to “propose labour and employment law reforms” and to “advance our world-class employment and training programs.” Without saying it in so many words, the Ontario Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee appears to have been created to address the idea that workers in the gig economy should expect a different level of protection under the province’s labour laws than has been traditional.

“The notion of the workplace is redefined as more people work from home and other remote locations. As we enter the COVID-19 recovery phase, there is an opportunity to adapt to these changes, capitalize on the positive impacts and lead economic recovery through workforce development and new approaches to employment policy,” its website reads.

Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly in the Dog Days of Summer, the “Future of Work” consultation is not getting a lot of attention.

There are no paid ads: “Do you work for a living? Ontario wants to hear from you!”

There are no Op-Eds in local papers by MPPs, or Zoom teleconferences with Chambers of Commerce. None of the tactics government generally uses to engage the citizenry is being rolled out as Ontario discusses the Future of Work.

Search the Ontario Newsroom site for the term “Ontario Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee” – nothing comes up.

If I was a skeptic, which I am, I would imagine the Ford government is happy to keep the Future of Work consultation as quiet and low-key as it possibly can.

A long, loud very public debate on the definitions of terms like “employee,” “dependent contractor,” and “independent contractor” could get messy in an election year. However, if Ford has any desire to slide in legislation modelled on California’s Prop 22, which left gig workers with minimal protections, he is going to have to do it in an election year.

Possibly, it is not a coincidence that the lobbying team that assisted Uber in getting its very own version of a by-law passed by the City of Toronto is now working for Doug Ford. Possibly, the proposed new legislation for Ontario was already written before the Future of Work consultation even started, and is sitting in a file awaiting introduction by Minister McNaughton as soon as Parliament resumes.

“Given the rushed and deeply flawed nature of the consultation process, we can only conclude that the Ford government is using this sham process to rubber stamp the carve-outs from workers’ rights that Uber is lobbying for. Ontario’s labour movement stands united with gig workers against a Proposition 22-style plan to take away their rights at work.”

Patty Coates, Ontario Federation of Labour President

While the various sectors of the transportation industry most impacted by the gig economy have also been unusually quiet during this consultation, the Ontario Federation of Labour has not. On July 5th, it issued the statement below which I will include in its entirety because it does such a good job of summarizing the background:

“Ontario’s labour movement is demanding that the Ford government put the brakes on its deeply flawed Ontario Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee. The Committee, which has been tasked with “leading the future of work in Ontario”, has no representation from labour, workers, or labour and employment law experts. It has been given less than one month to complete its so-called consultation process.

“The Committee’s makeup and its consultation process are fundamentally flawed. The process must be immediately halted, and the Committee must be reconstituted”, said Patty Coates, Ontario Federation of Labour President. “Working people deserve a seat at the table and to have meaningful input into the decisions that will shape their futures. We are calling on the government to put the brakes on this deeply flawed consultation process and to authentically and meaningfully engage with working people and their representatives.”

The Ford government’s announcement of the Committee comes shortly after Uber publicized its campaign for so-called “Flexible Work+”, a vaguely defined proposal modelled after Proposition 22, the California ballot initiative on which Uber and other gig employers spent upwards of $224 million USD to take away employment status from gig workers in California. Uber’s proposal calls for rules requiring it and other gig companies to provide “self-directed benefits” to their drivers based only on hours driving and certain unspecified additional safety training and tools. These changes would deny gig workers core protections afforded to employees in Ontario like the minimum wage, overtime pay, and paid sick days, as well as the reimbursement of expenses to ensure that their wages meet the ESA’s minimum standards.

“Given the rushed and deeply flawed nature of the consultation process, we can only conclude that the Ford government is using this sham process to rubber stamp the carve-outs from workers’ rights that Uber is lobbying for,” explained Coates. “Ontario’s labour movement stands united with gig workers against a Proposition 22-style plan to take away their rights at work.”

Instead of taking away these workers’ rights, the OFL is calling on the Ford government to take action to proactively enforce gig workers’ rights under the ESA, and to clarify their status as employees.

“App-based gig workers deserve the same rights as all other employees – full stop,” said Coates. “The Ontario government should enforce the laws already on the books to protect gig workers, and should follow the lead of courts and governments around the world and confirm that gig workers are employees and entitled to basic employment protections. Any calls to carve these workers out of their employment protections must be soundly rejected.”

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If you wish to participate in the consultations share your comments, ideas and suggestions with the committee by email at [email protected].

Provide your responses by July 31, 2021. By making this submission you consent to share this information with the OWRAC committee.