The Ontario Progressive Conservative Party is proposing significant changes to Ontario’s labour and workers’ compensation legislation which, if enacted, would dramatically alter the legal landscape. In a White Paper entitled “Paths to Prosperity: Flexible Labour Markets” the Party outlines a number of proposals which it says are necessary to ensure Ontario is able to compete in the global marketplace.
The White Paper calls for a ban on mandatory union membership and an end to automatic payroll deductions for union dues. This proposal would likely have a significant impact on Ontario trade unions. The U.S. state of Wisconsin recently banned mandatory membership in public sector unions and automatic payroll deductions for union dues. These actions quickly resulted in a large reduction in public sector union membership according to published reports. A union led effort to recall the Governor who enacted the labour law reforms was recently defeated by Wisconsin voters.
The White Paper also suggests supervised secret ballot representation votes for all union certification and collective agreement ratification votes. This would end the current practice of “card check” certification in the construction industry and would allow for government oversight of the contract ratification process.
It has been proposed by the White Paper that unions be required to be “transparent” about how much revenue they receive and how they spend their funds. Unions have been criticized by some commentators for using funds received from members to support political causes which may not be supported by individual members of the union. This proposal has certain parallels to Federal Bill C-377, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations), which has passed through second reading and is currently before the Standing Committee on Finance. The White Paper states that unions have given funds to causes ranging from the Quebec university tuition protestors to groups opposed to plastic water bottles. The Conservative Party of Ontario recently lost a case at the Ontario Court of Appeal against the union backed Working Families Coalition which it accused of violating Ontario election law.
The White Paper also suggests allowing private insurance companies to compete with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). Private insurance companies would be mandated to offer “equal or better” coverage to what is available from the WSIB. The entry of private companies into the system would be gradually phased in. Several American states allow private companies to participate in the workers’ compensation system.
The White Paper states that the WSIB would ultimately become an insurer of last resort, providing coverage to those businesses that cannot obtain insurance elsewhere. It appears that the Party is proposing a complete private sector takeover of the workers’ compensation system. If the reforms were implemented, the role of the WSIB would essentially be limited to setting minimum standards for insurance coverage and providing coverage to high risk employers that the private sector is not prepared to insure.