A provincial forum for discussion between employers, unions, employees, and government

In our consultations with the various stakeholders in this process, it became apparent that while the stakeholder representatives may express their views to government, they rarely meet together and likely only when their interests are aligned.footnote 549 This lack of interaction and ongoing discussion between the key stakeholders on labour law and employment reform, with respect to significant changes in the workplace and the economy, hinders the development of effective and balanced public policy. While open dialogue will not lead to consensus on all contentious issues, it may lead to a better appreciation of interests and perspectives and, on occasion, to a limited range of matters where there might well be a convergence of interests. All parties are interested in a strong economy and in the provision of decent working conditions for employees.

If there was a forum for discussing broad work-related issues, there would be much to discuss and much to learn. At a time when there is uncertainty and the nature of work has changed for so many, the list of issues is extensive: changes to work-related law and regulation; enforcement of the laws of the workplace; the education and training of employees and employers; the development of a research database for labour and employment matters; the impact on Ontario of changes to free trade agreements, just to name a few. In our view, much is to be gained by providing a forum for discussion where stakeholders with competing interests can discuss how and what change might make Ontario a place where the goals of economic growth and improved employee rights might be achieved.

There is a history of attempts to form tripartite multi-party discussions between management, labour, and government in Ontario. Most have been short-lived, although numerous section 21 committees under OHSA do function effectively.footnote 550

Given the imperatives of global competition, the rapidly changing nature of work and workplaces, and the potential imminent changes to trade agreements that may affect Ontario, there is a compelling case to be made for bringing together government, business, labour and employee advocate leaders, at a senior level, to discuss these and other issues, to foster broader understanding of what is occurring and to attempt to find consensus on possible alternatives and options.

To be clear, we do not suggest that this new forum be involved in the government’s decision-making process in its response to our Report. We have attempted to hear the views and understand the interests of stakeholders in making our recommendations and hope that the government will determine the steps that it will take in response to our Report. Once decided, the evaluation of changes implemented by the government could usefully be discussed in such a forum.

We recommend, accordingly, that an Ontario Workplace Forum be established with an independent chair who will function as facilitator. Business leaders, labour leaders, employee advocates, all at a senior level, and government at the Deputy level, should participate. The Committee should meet as often as required, but no less than quarterly. It should have some modest staffing and resources to support its work, which can be revaluated and strengthened if the process demonstrates value.

Institutionalizing the process of our review

There is no history of a joint review of both statutes in Ontario or Canada and little history in Ontario of independent review of either statute at the request of government.footnote 551

We are aware of the criticism of the politicization of the process of law reform of labour relations law in the 1990’s,footnote 552 and we have, therefore, endeavoured to conduct a full and open consultation on an independent and apolitical basis. The consultation process was a valuable exercise. Looking at the issues in both statutes together allowed for a better understanding of how the same issues are approached in unionized and non-unionized settings and necessitated an examination of similar issues under both Acts. The process was lengthy because it had been so long since a review was conducted, there was much to cover, and the statutes are complex. We endeavoured to prioritize the issues that we determined required immediate examination and put off those which, while important, were less pressing.

Whatever changes are made coming out of this review based on our recommendations, they should be reviewed after a period of time to assess their effectiveness in the context of changes in international commitments, changes in other jurisdictions, and future changes that may occur in the workplace and in the economy. The process of reform must be responsive to those changes and should occur on a reasonably regular basis regardless of the government in power.


  1. We recommend that Ontario create an Ontario Workplace Forum of senior business and labour leaders, employee advocates, and senior government officials, with an independent Chair facilitator. The Committee should meet no less than quarterly and have modest support from government. The Forum would discuss the impact of changes in the workplace and the economy from the perspective of the stakeholders and attempt to achieve consensus on appropriate measures that could be taken by government and by the stakeholders. The Forum would also monitor, support and make recommendations to improve any changes implemented by government as a result of this Review.
  2. We recommend that Ontario make an ongoing commitment to the process of independent review of the new Workplace Rights Act every five to seven years.


  • footnote[549] Back to paragraph We believe there were discussions amongst unions and employee advocates during the consultations with respect to this Changing Workplaces Review, but none that really involved business.
  • footnote[550] Back to paragraph The Minister has appointed section 21 committees in the following sectors: construction, mining, health care, fire services, police, film and television, and electrical and utilities
  • footnote[551] Back to paragraph In 1993 in Ontario, there was a Tripartite Review of a list of subjects, directed by government and conducted in a very constrained timeframe with no meaningful consultation, in which, according to the Chair, the circumstances undermined the reform process: Kevin M. Burkett, The Politicization of the Ontario Labour Relations Framework in the Decade of the 1990’s. The 1975 amendments to the LRA were regarded as having emanated from an independent process despite the fact that it was led by the MOL. (See Burkett, infra). The Law Commission of Ontario produced an independent but self-generated report on the ESA in 2012: Vulnerable Workers and Precarious Work (Toronto: Law Commission of Ontario, 2012) and in the 1980’s, there was an independent review of the Hours of Work provisions of the ESA: Donner, A. (Chair), Working Times: The Report of the Ontario Task Force on Hours of Work and Overtime, Toronto, Ontario Ministry of Labour, 1987.
  • footnote[552] Back to paragraph In the space of five years, Ontario has undergone two major revisions of the Labour Relations Act without the benefit of in-depth study and analysis and full consultation with both sides of the collective bargaining process. The legacy of this short-sighted and partisan political intervention has been to create a climate of uncertainty, to the detriment of all, and to accentuate divisions within the labour relations community such that there have been negative impacts upon society and opportunities lost for collaborative approaches to the economic challenges of the day: Burkett op. cit. 18