Bill 66 is a new bill that was introduced in Ontario on December 6, 2018. Its official name is the “Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act, 2018.” The bill, introduced by the Ford government, involved changes to the Employment Standards Act and the Labour Relations Act that would have a real impact on Ontario employers and employees.

As the name suggests, the government intended for these changes to make Ontario more competitive and attractive to businesses. The purpose was to cut red tape and reduce regulation in various industries, including the construction industry.

However, while less regulation may sound appealing to employers, it could end up hurting vulnerable workers by reducing their protections. Time will tell how these changes will be applied by employers and how they will impact workers.

Bill 66 recently received Royal Assent, on April 3, 2019 and the changes are now in effect. Several of these changes are explained below.

48+ hour workweek under the ESA

Before Bill 66, employers and employees could agree that the employee would work more than the 48 hour work week, if the arrangement was approved by the Ministry of Labour’s Director of Employment Standards.

After Bill 66, employers and employees do not need approval from the Ministry of Labour if they reach an agreement. On the one hand, it’s a positive that an employee has to agree to the arrangement for more than 48 hours/week. However, there may still be imbalances in bargaining power which make it challenging for an employee to decline.

It is important to note that employees are still protected from reprisal. Reprisal, in this context, is an act of retaliation for asserting your rights under the Employment Standards Act. An employer could not punish an employee for refusing to sign an agreement for a 48+ hour week.

Averaging overtime under the ESA

Similarly to above, before Bill 66, if an employer and employee wanted to enter an agreement to average an employee’s hours over x number of weeks in order to calculate entitlement to overtime, they needed approval from the Director of Employment Standards.

Bill 66 has removed that requirement. This means that an employer and employee can enter into a valid agreement to average hours for overtime purposes if they so choose.

Posting Employment Standards information in the workplace

Before Bill 66, employers were required to display a poster in the workplace with Employment Standards information. After the passing of Bill 66, employers must only provide a copy to employees. The potential downside of this is that workers may not realize or remember their rights if they are not exposed to them on a regular basis.

“Non-construction employers” in the Labour Relations Act

Bill 66 amends the definition of “non-construction employers” to include several large public sector organizations. This includes hospitals, universities and municipalities. What this means is that they would no longer be bound to the current construction industry collective bargaining agreements. Current agreements would be terminated.

Before Bill 66, these employers were restricted to accepting bids from workers affiliated with certain unions, with which they had collective agreements. After Bill 66, the process is opened up to allow for bids from more contractors, not just those who may affiliated with a particular trade union. Please note that employers did have a three month window from April 4, 2019 to opt-out of the application of this amendment.

The motivation for this change may be to allow employers (who are not typical construction employers) to find the most cost-effective contractor for the job. It could also help contractors who are not affiliated with a trade union, as they were previously prevented from bidding on these large public sector projects.

It will be important to monitor the reaction of trade unions and contractors in the upcoming months.

Bill 66 could have an impact on businesses of any size as it loosens the restrictions for excess hours and overtime averaging agreements. It will also impact trade unions, construction projects and the bottom line of those projects as they look for cost-effective services.

As an employer or employee, you may have questions about how this new legislation impacts your rights and obligations. Please reach out to the professionals at Ball Professional Corporation for help understanding this new Bill.

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