Whether they are working from home, wearing masks, or changing careers altogether, Ontarians have seen significant changes to the ways they work over the past two years. As we explore returns to offices and hybrid schedules, many of us are left wondering what comes next.
The government of Ontario has ventured to answer that question in a new report by the Ontario Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee titled The Future of Work in Ontario. In it, the committee sets out recent trends and makes 21 recommendations on how Ontario can be better prepared for the changes that lie ahead. Below, we summarize key points and takeaways from this article.
The report was created using input from over 700 individuals and organizations, including 550 written submissions and over 150 direct consultations. It relies on a survey administered by Ipsos of 2,003 adult Ontarians in the summer of 2021 and summarizes findings from other surveys done of Canadian workers.
The report describes the significant changes to the Ontario job market brought on by the COVID-19 Pandemic and what can be done minimize the disruptive effect that the pandemic will have on work in years to come.
To situate the report’s findings, it sets out several statistics about the changes to Ontario’s labour market due to the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Canadians aged 15 to 69 working from home went from four per cent in 2016 to 32 per cent in January of 2021
- The unemployment rate peaked at 14 per cent at the start of the pandemic but has gradually reduced, down to 7.3 per cent in October of 2021
- 23 per cent of Canadians surveyed reported delaying their or their spouse’s retirement because of COVID-19
- 80 per cent of Ontarians said that stronger supports and benefits for workers are needed from the government.
Looking back: Using existing programs to tackle COVID-19 challenges
A major gap identified by the report, existing before the pandemic but exacerbated by it, is the challenge for workers in accessing ongoing skill training and upgrading to progress their careers. Only a small fraction of workers surveyed reported having the education or access to training needed for the jobs they want.
The report highlights three existing programs in Ontario: Ontario’s Micro-credentials program which offers short training programs to upgrade skills independently, the Skills Development Fund which provides funding for projects addressing challenges in hiring, training and retention brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Second Career program covering tuition and associated costs for workers laid off during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
The report encourages the government to build on these projects, increase funding to them, and make them as widely accessible as possible. The report also recommends developing a provincial equivalent of the Canadian Training Benefit to encourage more workers to upgrade skills and encourages the government to work with employers to develop more on-the-job training. Lastly, the report stresses the importance of reforming all training programs to be more inclusive towards those with weak employment history, including vulnerable and marginalized groups.
Future is now: Recommendations Being implemented by the Ontario government
Several recommendations in the report are already in the process of being implemented. These include:
- Recommendation 13: Eliminating blanket non-compete clauses in favour of ones that are specific to intellectual property to encourage innovation, worker mobility and competition
- Recommendations 17: Requiring increased transparency from temporary help agencies on worker classification
- Recommendation 19: Fostering a culture of work-life balance with a right to disconnect
These recommendations were implemented in the Working for Workers Act, assented to in December of 2021. This included adding a requirement for employers with over 25 employees to implement a written policy with respect to disconnecting from work, prohibiting non-compete clauses in employment contracts for all employees except for executives, and creating an entire regime that requires licensing to operate temporary help agencies.
What lies ahead: Moving parts for gig workers
Lastly, the report focuses on the rise of the gig-economy and makes several recommendations on how these workers can be better supported. These include creating a new dependent contractor category which could be given rights such as termination pay, minimum wage, and/or some other benefits, requiring more transparency from gig platform companies, and creating more clarity around who is and is not an independent contractor.
If the government implements these suggestions, the big questions is what the practical outcome will be for gig workers and how it will impact non-legislative developments.
For instance, a recently announced partnership between Uber and the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada, a private sector union, will provide representation for Uber drivers and couriers in disputes with Uber over their working conditions.
In court, a class action against Uber, to determine whether their drivers are employees, was certified last summer. If successful, those workers could be recognized as employees under the Employment Standards Act, providing more protection than the Future of Work report recommends. For instance, the class action asks whether the workers are entitled to vacation and holiday pay while the report makes no mention of these rights.
If the government implements the dependent contractor recommendation, gig workers will likely have more rights and protection than they do now. It begs the question, however, whether this could hinder class actions and unionization drives that are advocating for more.
Either way, this demonstrates an increased awareness that labeling a worker an “independent contractor” is not the end of the story. Whether through class actions or legislation, this will certainly be an exciting area for the development of labour and employment law in the years to come.
This article was written by Enbal Singer and was originally published by The Lawyer’s Daily on February 3, 2022.
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