Advocacy group slams Province’s new labour laws regarding COVID-19


According to the Ontario Federation of Labour, the Province's new rules regarding emergency leave for employees could leave workers more vulnerable.

These new rules will remove workers' access to severance and termination pay at a time when many jobs are already in vicarious positions due to the economic uncertainty associated with the pandemic.

On May 29, the Province stipulated that non-unionized employees temporarily laid off due to the pandemic will be deemed to be on infectious disease emergency leave.

These changes are being applied retroactive to retroactive to March 1, and will remain in effect until six weeks after the Province lifts the state of emergency.

With this change, the government has turned a leave benefit meant to protect workers into a tool that employers can use to avoid their financial obligations to their employees under the Employment Standards Act, and that’s just not right,” Patty Coates, OFL president, said in a news release. “By forcibly deeming laid off workers onto emergency leave, and indeterminately delaying their right to termination and severance pay, the new rules increase the economic precarity of workers at a time when they are the most vulnerable.”

Normally, under the Employment Standards Act, workers who have been temporarily laid off are considered terminated after 13 weeks, and entitled to termination pay and, in some cases, additional severance pay.

However, under these new regulations, employees who have been laid off for reasons associated with the pandemic will be considered on unpaid emergency leave--which they will remain on indefinitely--which will delay employers' obligation to pay termination or severance.

Many workers who have not been laid off or fired are still feeling the financial burden of COVID-19. Many have had their hours of work reduced dramatically. Others have seen their employers reduce their hourly wage,” Coates said.

Additionally, these new regulations allow employers to reduce employees wages and hours indiscriminately--employees can no longer claim constructive dismissal if this happens, and any claims made on this basis will be automatically dismissed.

These rules effectively allow employers to cut hours and wages with relative impunity, causing serious financial hardship to working people,” Coates said.

Moreover, the new regulations strip workers of their right to continued benefits of their on leave due to the pandemic.

Under this rule, not only are workers forced onto a leave, as opposed to a layoff that could eventually result in termination and severance pay, they are denied key protections that are normally understood to be an important right of workers who are on leave,” Coates said.

According to the OFL, the most nefarious part of these new regulations is the fact they appear to target Ontario's most vulnerable workers.

It is lower paid and precarious workers who will be most affected by the negative consequences of these changes. Rather than use the Employment Standards Act to protect the most vulnerable workers in Ontario during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ford government has decided to use it as a tool to make them even more vulnerable to their employers’ economic interests,” Coates said. 

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