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Howard Levitt: Here's what Ford's Re-election Means for Employees in Ontario

posted 1 year ago

What does a second Ford term mean for Ontario employees?

For starters, they can expect a lot more changes to come, because it is a government focused on transforming the workforce.

With the endorsement of eight blue-collar unions and the unveiling of the innovative “Working for Workers Act” heading into the election, it is clear where the PC’s sights have been set.

The 2022 budget and Ford’s election campaign ads prominently featured the “pro-worker” message that has become a staple of his government.

Historically, we are not accustomed to seeing this kind of support for workers from the PCs. Haven’t unions and workers always been bread-and-butter NDP territory, with the occasional oscillation to the Liberals? Not anymore.

The pandemic made employment law and employee rights front and centre in a way they have never been before under any government. The Ford government seized the opportunity to build new coalitions and rebrand on these issues — and it obviously paid off.

There are two key workforce areas we can expect the Ontario government to focus on during the next four years:

The first area is the most monumental: the labour shortage.

We have been hearing about this non-stop. Most of us have experience it any time we go to a store, restaurant or airport. There is not a single industry exempt from the need to recruit right now (any legal assistants out there, please apply!). The labour shortage is very real and it is not going anywhere anytime soon.

Ford will need to focus on long-term solutions to the worker shortage. He sees skilled trades as one of the solutions. With many trade workers entering their retirement years, the government plans to shortly invest millions into training the future generation of skilled trade workers. This investment includes not only expanding training facilities and funding apprenticeships and tools, but also fighting stigma around the trades.

For years, young people have been told they need to go to university to make something of themselves, and jobs in the trades have received a bad rap. Breaking the stigma around these jobs and showing young people that they are actually very fulfilling and also lucrative careers is part of the solution.

Removing barriers for internationally trained workers and generally making it easier to work in Ontario are also part of Ford’s planned labour shortage solution. It is surprising that it took so long for Ontario governments to realize this. After all, before the pandemic Ontario also had essentially full employment so this is nothing new.

The second area we can expect the government to focus on is gig work. Again, we can ask, why did the Liberals, which spent so much time moaning about the plight of gig workers, never do anything to help them?

Before the election, the government announced plans to provide employment rights to gig workers who work for digital platforms. Things like pay transparency, minimum wage and notice requirements.

This has never been done before in Canada — and was spearheaded by Labour Minister Monte McNaughton. (Disclosure: Kathryn Marshall is a member of the Ontario Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee, which recommended protections and rights for gig workers.)

The government will continue to build on this legislation and implement other ways to support the gig economy — such as possibly introducing portable benefits. These benefits, which follow the worker, are currently being explored by a task force assembled before the election. Another possible area of reform is the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board and making it easier for gig workers to access WSIB insurance.

The gig economy is a rapidly growing sector. Many people think of it as ride-share apps such as Uber, but there are plenty of other types companies working in this space. Expect the government to continue to find ways to support gig work and encourage innovation while also ensuring that workers have essential protections.

Ford has been given a strong mandate to continue with his pro-worker focus-starting with the unions which supported him. His decrying of woke political correctness, anathema to most mainstream unions, did not hurt him either. The NDP and Liberals who have tried to compete with each other for being the most woke and politically correct just didn’t get it. And the results showed.

Time will tell what impact his policy initiatives will have. But one thing is for sure: employment law and the workforce will continue to be front and centre. And other provinces will follow behind.


Howard Levitt is senior partner of Levitt Sheikh, employment and labour lawyers with offices in Toronto and Hamilton. He practices employment law in eight provinces. He is the author of six books including the Law of Dismissal in Canada. Kathryn Marshall is a partner with Levitt Sheikh.




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