Right to Disconnect Legislation and More Introduced In Ontario – A Revolutionary Change or A Flop?

Yesterday Ontario Minister of Labour, Monte McNaughton, introduced a new omnibus Bill 27, Working for Workers Act in Ontario, which proposes some important amendments to labour and employment regulations. We review some of the most noteworthy proposals below.

 

Right to Disconnect Policies

The bill requires employers with 25 or more employees to develop policies providing for employee’s right to disconnect from work. The scope of “disconnect from work” is defined as “not engaging in work-related communications… [such as calls, emails, texts], so as to be free from the performance of work.” Notably, the bill only calls for introduction of written policies, without specifying their content and the extent to which will the employers be required to provide this right to employees.

 

Worldwide, the right-to-disconnect legislation was first introduced in France in 2016 and since then has also been implemented by other countries, such as Italy, Spain, Belgium, India and Philippines. Ontario legislation, although limited in scope, is the first of its kind to be adopted in any of the Canadian provinces. Last year, federal government paved the way for the discussion of the right to disconnect when it established the Right to Disconnect Advisory Committee to consider implementing right-to-disconnect policies for federal employees.

 

These are welcome developments that address rising concerns that constant connection to mobile technologies and blurred lines between life and work cause heightened risks of anxiety, depression, burnout and even an increased chance of dying from stroke or heart disease. The urgency of this issue has become particularly evident in the context of COVID-19 and the resulting prevalence of remote work.

 

Despite the evident timeliness of the proposed amendments, it is clear that their effectiveness (if they become law) will depend entirely on the manner of their implementation.

 

Ban of Non-compete Clauses

The proposed legislation also forbids the employers to use non-compete clauses with narrow exceptions. This, in essence, would mean that employers would no longer be able to limit the spectre of jobs that their employees may take in the same field after leaving the employer. As stated in the government release, these practices constitute an “unfair restriction” on workers’ ability to promote their careers.

 

Washroom Access for Delivery Workers

Additionally, the bill amends the Occupational Health and Safety Act to require the owner of the workplace, where delivery workers deliver or pick up items, to allow access to washrooms. This would potentially apply to couriers, truck drivers and food delivery workers. The provided exceptions to this rule include circumstances where washroom access would not be “reasonable or practical having regard to all circumstances” or if the washroom is located in a private residence.

 

This amendment came as a result of consultations with the Ontario Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee, which have revealed that despite an increased role of delivery workers throughout the pandemic, they have often been denied a basic right to use a washroom.

 

Licensing for Temporary Help Agencies

Temporary help agencies and recruiters will be required to obtain a license to continue operating. In addition, the amendments also prohibit knowingly using the services of an unlicensed temporary help agency or recruiter.

 

This amendment come in response to the recently discovered large-scale illegal operations of temp help and recruiting agencies, which owe more than $3.3 million to employees working in farms, retirement homes, food processing and warehousing facilities. The Ministry of Labour stated that the proposed changes are necessary in order to fight against agencies and recruiters that pay their workers below minimum wage, charge illegal hiring fees and fail to provide them with basic employment rights.

 

Access of Internationally Trained Individuals to Regulated Professions

The bill proposes to change Fair Access to Regulated Professions and Compulsory Trades Act to eliminate some of the unnecessary red tape in the licensing process for immigrants. One of the most important measures is to prohibit having Canadian experience as a qualification for registration, unless an exemption is granted by the Minister “for the purposes of public health and safety.” This measure is introduced to address labour shortage and remove a prominent barrier for immigrants to find a job matching their qualification.

 

Overall, the Bill is a surprising pro-labour move by the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, more known for their anti-worker rights actions (cancelling increases to minimum wage, getting rid of paid sick days). It remains to be seen, if this is a genuine attempt to improve the workers’ conditions or just a political move to find new ways to attract the voters after the results of the previous elections.

 

Please contact us for a personalized assessment about how your union might benefit from the amendments proposed in Bill 27.

 

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