Researchers inspire provincial policy change to aid employees in precarious jobs

Early this week, the Government of Ontario is set to introduce legislation updating Ontario’s Employment Standards and Labour Relations Acts in response to the final report of the Provincial Government’s Changing Workplaces Review (CWR) released on May 23. The most significant review of Ontario’s employment standards and labour relations laws and policies in a generation, the reforms are poised to shape workplace rights for decades to come.

Leah Vosko

York University researchers have played a key role in generating the research base for modernizing Ontario’s Employment Standards Act (ESA). Professor Leah F. Vosko, Canada Research Chair in the Department of Politics, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LAPS), together with Professor Mark P. Thomas, Director of the Faculty’s Global Labour Research Centre, in the Department of Sociology, LAPS, Osgoode Hall Law School Professor Eric Tucker, and Ryerson University Sociology Professor Andrea M. Noack prepared two background studies informing the CWR. One study examines the ESA’s many exemptions and special rules for certain groups of workers, and the other examines the Act’s enforcement. Along with papers prepared with York-based Postdoctoral Researchers, Rebecca Casey and John Grundy, these studies are cited extensively in the Final Report of the CWR and inform its recommendations for legislative and policy change.

Vosko serves as Principal Investigator of the “Closing the Enforcement Gap: Improving Employment Standards Protections for People in Precarious Jobs,” a research partnership funded by the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada in which Grundy, Noack, Thomas, and Tucker are co-investigators. Research emanating from the partnership sheds light on key weaknesses in the Employment Standards Act’s protection for people in precarious jobs. Studies produced by these and other research team members demonstrate the need to improve access to personal emergency leave for employees in small firms who are currently excluded from this standard; eliminate the lower minimum wage for students and liquor servers; strengthen the Ministry of Labour’s ability to hold employers responsible for employment standards violations; expand the definition of employees who are covered by the Employment Standards Act; and to combat the misclassification of employees as independent contractors.

The Changing Workplaces Review’s final report adopts many of these recommendations,  revealing the policy impact of the Closing the Gap research partnership.  As Vosko notes, “One of our overarching goals is to produce an evidence-basis to guide the development measures for improving protections for people in precarious jobs, so I’m pleased to see a number of our recommendations appear in the final report of the Changing Workplaces Review. But our work isn’t done yet. We’ll continue to conduct research on identifying ways to strengthen employment standards in Ontario in the coming years.”

The Closing the Gap Partnership will present further results from their work at the Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities in Toronto this week, and launch a new report on the enforcement of the Employment Standards Act at a policy forum in Toronto in late June.

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