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Ontario unveils latest slate of workplace changes with Working for Workers Five Act

by HR Law Canada

The Ontario government has unveiled sweeping new workplace legislation — including a focus on skilled trades, removing barriers to employment for internationally trained workers, requiring menstrual products on construction sites, and doubling the maximum fine for individuals convicted of violating the ESA from $50,000 to $100,000.

The “Working for Workers Five Act, 2024” is aimed at expanding employment opportunities and enhancing worker protections, according to the province. This initiative builds on the four previous Working for Workers acts, introducing a series of first-in-Canada supports if passed, it said.

Here’s a breakdown of the changes announced this morning.

Opening pathways into the skilled trades

The Ontario government is enhancing the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP) by introducing the Focused Apprenticeship Skills Training (FAST) stream, aimed at Grade 11 and 12 students. This initiative will offer additional co-operative education credits, enabling students to gain more apprenticeship experience while completing high school. The program is part of a broader effort to equip students with essential skills for lucrative careers in trades, combining hands-on and technical training.

Furthermore, the government plans to simplify the process of finding apprenticeships with a new online job-matching portal for apprentices, journeypersons, and employers to exchange job opportunities.

Additionally, the province is developing alternative pathways for individuals seeking careers in the skilled trades as a second career. These pathways will cater to those with relevant professional experience who may not meet traditional academic requirements for apprenticeship registration. Specific alternative criteria will be outlined in future regulations.

Removing barriers to employment

The province is proposing legislative changes to streamline the registration process for internationally trained workers. The new measures would require regulated professions to facilitate concurrent processing of registration steps wherever feasible. If enacted, this would make Ontario the first Canadian province to mandate such a plan for regulated professions.

Additionally, the legislation aims to make the foreign credential verification process more outcomes-oriented. It would require regulated professions to accept alternative documentation when standard documents are unavailable due to circumstances beyond the applicant’s control, such as war or natural disasters. This too would be a first in Canada.

The province is also expanding the range of occupations eligible for the In-Demand Skills stream of the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP) and plans to improve efficiency by delegating decision-making authority within the OINP.

Consultations are underway for a new Trusted Employer Model under the OINP, intended to reduce bureaucracy and paperwork for well-established businesses.

Moreover, Ontario has completed its rollout of the Employment Services Transformation (EST), having appointed the final three service system managers (SSMs) for Toronto, Northeast, and Northwest Ontario, thereby fulfilling its commitment to integrated, streamlined, and outcomes-oriented employment services province-wide.

Keeping frontline heroes and workers healthy and safe

Ontario is set to enhance occupational health protections and streamline related administrative processes across various sectors. Key initiatives include:

  1. Firefighting and Health Coverage: The province proposes to reduce the minimum service duration for firefighters, fire investigators, and volunteers to qualify for primary-site skin cancer coverage from 15 to 10 years—this would be the lowest in Canada. Additionally, wildland firefighters and fire investigators will now have the same presumptive coverage for occupational cancers, heart injuries, and PTSD as municipal firefighters.
  2. Legislative and Administrative Updates: Electronic copies of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) will fulfill posting requirements, and joint health and safety committee meetings can be held virtually, modernizing compliance procedures.
  3. Mental Health Support Expansion: A consultation has been launched to potentially broaden the range of workers entitled to presumptive benefits for PTSD under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act (WSIA), aimed at supporting those routinely facing traumatic work situations.
  4. Construction Safety Review: The Chief Prevention Officer will lead an investigation into the causes of critical injuries and fatalities in the construction sector. There’s also a consultation on enhancing the provision of health and safety equipment on construction sites.
  5. Asbestos Exposure Prevention: Efforts are underway to incorporate asbestos-related data into the ministry’s upcoming occupational exposure registry to prevent asbestos-related illnesses more effectively.
  6. Healthcare and Administrative Burdens: The requirement for sick notes from healthcare professionals for job-protected sick leave under the Employment Standards Act (ESA) has been eliminated to reduce paperwork. Employers may request alternative reasonable evidence, like an attestation, with future ministry guidance planned to support this policy.
  7. New Employment Leave: A consultation was launched on April 4, 2024, for a proposed 27-week, job-protected leave for employees suffering from serious illnesses such as cancer, aligning with federal Employment Insurance sickness benefits. This consultation aims to shape future worker support strategies and will close on May 6, 2024.

Supporting women at work

Ontario is considering new legislation aimed at improving workplace conditions and safety standards on construction sites. The proposed measures include the requirement for menstrual products to be available on projects with at least 20 regularly employed workers and a duration of three months or more. This initiative would make Ontario the first Canadian province to adopt such a policy.

Additionally, the legislation would mandate that worker washrooms be kept clean and sanitary, with a formal record of cleaning as per new regulations. This step, also a first in Canada, follows recommendations from tradeswomen and industry stakeholders. They advocate that improved washroom facilities could significantly boost female participation in the construction industry, echoing findings from the Ontario Building and Construction Tradeswomen 2022 survey.

The province is also looking to update its definition of harassment to encompass virtual harassment, including virtual sexual harassment, adapting to the evolving digital workplace landscape.

Lastly, Ontario plans to engage in consultations with survivors of harassment, legal experts, and other stakeholders to explore possible legislative or regulatory changes. These changes aim to establish a duty for employers to act following the identification of workplace harassment through investigations.

Increasing fairness for jobseekers and employees

Ontario is proposing new employment legislation that includes several significant changes to improve transparency and accountability among employers. One of the key provisions would require employers to indicate in publicly advertised job postings whether the position is currently vacant and to communicate with applicants they have interviewed, with plans for an “education-first” approach to implementation after consulting with stakeholders.

The province also intends to raise the maximum fine for individuals convicted of violating the Employment Standards Act (ESA) from $50,000 to $100,000, positioning it as the highest such fine in Canada. Furthermore, Ontario aims to increase the penalty for repeat offenders who have violated the same provision of the ESA three or more times, boosting the fine from $1,000 to $5,000—among the highest penalties nationally.

Additionally, effective October 1, 2024, the minimum wage in Ontario will increase from $16.55 to $17.20 per hour. This 3.9% rise is tied to the Ontario Consumer Price Index (CPI) and will elevate Ontario’s minimum wage to the second highest in the country.

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