By Pauline James, Anchor HR Services Inc.
VCC Government Relations Committee Member 

Union density has been on the decline, and our government is taking measures to address this. Overall, union density in Ontario fell from 29.9% in 1997 to 26.8% in 2015.  The Private sector experienced a significant decline, along with the manufacturing sector, over the past 50+ years. This rate continues to fall, with private sector density continuing to drop from 19.2% in 1997 to 14.3% in 2015.

The Ontario government proposes a number of amendments to the Labour Relations Act (LRA) and to increase the Ontario Labour Relations Board’s (OLRB) authority. The goal of these changes is to remove perceived barriers to unionizing, particularly in sectors where they view workers as more vulnerable.

The proposed legislation includes:

  • Removal of requirement to hold a secret ballet vote and introduce ‘card-based certification’ for temporary help agency industry, building services sector, and home care and community services industry
  • Increase the OLRB’s ability to order ‘remedial union certification’ and order a company unionized, if it is found in violation of the rules under the LRA
  • Allow unions to access to employee lists, including certain contact information, when they demonstrate support from 20% of employee group involved
  • Allow OLRB to conduct votes outside of the workplace, including electronically and by telephone
  • Extend successor rights to the retendering of building service contracts
  • Allow OLRB to change the structure of bargaining units, under an employer, when it determines existing units are no longer appropriate. This would include consolidating newly certified units with existing ones, when represented by the same union
  • When there is a legal strike, employees are currently permitted to return to work within six (6) months. This limit would be removed and require an employer to reinstate employees at the end of a labour dispute, regardless of length
  • Introduce requirement that employees can only be terminated for ‘just cause’, from the time of union certification and also during a legal labour dispute
  • Increase maximum fines to $5,000 for individuals and $100,000 for companies

The government also proposes further consultations to potentially remove exclusions, that currently restrict certain employee groups from unionizing, under the LRA.

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