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CLN4U1 Labour Law

Page history last edited by Sheridan Hay 14 years, 3 months ago

Labour Law


The second part of this final unit, labour law, continues to explore the idea of collective rights and how individuals acting together can apply the law in the workplace in ways that an individual acting alone cannot.  You will find the assignments on this page, indicated in red.  You will not be expected to read the entire chapter, only the parts relevant to what is presented below.


There are three themes to be explored in this part of the unit:

  • The Government and the Workplace
  • How the Workforce is Organized
  • The Changing Workplace:  Globalization and International Trade Agreements


Part One: The Government and the Workplace


What role does the government play in the workplace?


The provincial and federal governments regulate employment standards - for both employees and employers - in the following areas:

  • health and safety
  • human rights
  • minimum labour standards (wages and hours of work)
  • wrongful dismissal


The government did not always play a role in the workplace.  If you choose to read the beginning of chapter 13 (pages 385-388), you will find that working conditions were harsh at the beginning of the last century and the government largely left employers and employees to work out problems on their own.


The model for labour relations that has dominated the Canadian workplace since the end of the Second World War involves collective bargaining, where unionized workplaces are represented by a union bargaining team who negotiates a contract with the employer.  More information about this can be found here and here.


Federal government workers and industries that operate nationally (or across provincial borders) are governed by the Canada Labour Code (about 10% of all workers).


Ontario government workers and industries are governed by the Ontario Employment Standards Act (ESA).


While these acts aim to even out the imbalance of power between employers and employees, they also limit the options of an employer when setting the terms of employment.  Employment standards prescribed by ESA are inalienable (parties cannot contract out of them) and cannot be unconscionable (unfair in the opinion of the average observer).  That being said, the standards are minimum standards, and the two parties are welcome to negotiate for higher standards.


How are the laws enforced?


When a worker of group of workers complants government inspectors investigate the complaint.  Many of the issues relating to enforcement of labour codes are decided in the courts.


Assignment:  Read the case Stranded in Denver (page 390-392)


Safety in the Workplace 

With statistics showing that there is an average of just under one million Canadian workers injured on the job every year (see page 394 of the textbook), this is obviously an area of great concern to workers and employers alike, as well as the government.  While the government cannot possibly legislate away risks, there must be an effort to foresee possible risks and either avert or minimize them as much as possible.  Risks must also managed effectively by both employees and employers, and work together to maximize the safety of the work environment.


Assignment:  Review the case London Youth Killed on the Job (page 394-395) and prepare to answer the questions 1 to 4 (page 395)

The OSHA is an act intended to reduce risks and prevent accidents.  The government becomes involved in the workplace when help is needed or the system fails.  When the government finds that there has been a failure to protect the safety of workers, fines are imposed.


For workers who have been injured on the job, the government has a workers' compensation program.  [For more information on the program, you can refer to page 396 of the textbook.  Apart from being aware of its existence as an area overseen by the government, the topic will not be included in this course curriculum.]


Human Rights Code


Discrimination in employment is a key human right in Ontario, guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Code.  The Human Rights Code prohibits discrmination on the following grounds:


"...race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, 

sexual orientation, age, record of offences, marital status, same-sex

partnership status, family status or disability."


The Code addresses each of these forms of discrimination in employment as well as on-the-job harassment relating to any of the grounds listed.  Any individual who feels that they are a victim of discrimination can bring a complaint to the Human Rights Commission, which can issue binding orders on public and private sector employers.


One area of discrimination that has been very difficult to uproot is the issue pay equity.  While it is illegal to pay one gender more or less than the other gender for the same job, it is often hard to prove that the job is the same and there are already existing gender preferences in different industries that make comparison complicated.  [For more information on the issue, you can refer to pages 401 and 402 of the textbook.]


Assignment:  Read A Decade of Change for Women, pages 399-400, and answer questions 1 and 2, page 400.


Assignment:  Read Issue:  Drug Testing in the Workplace (pages 403-405) and answer the following questions:

1. In your opinion, is drug and alcohol testing in the workplace a human rights issue?  Why or why not?

2.  Identify the best argument used by each side in the issue and explain your choice.


Assignment:  Writing a Case Comment, page 406, and answer questions 1 to 3, page 406.


Assignment:  Read the case Married to a Murderer (page 407-408) and prepare to discuss questions 1 to 4 (page 408) 


Assignment Thinking and Inquiry, answer question 4, page 409.

Part Two:  Organizing the Workforce 

In Canadian labour history, and indeed in the labour history of most industrialized countries, labour unions have played a significant role in fighting for and protecting the rights of workers.  


A brief timeline of trade unions in Canada

[the information can also be found by reading the textbook, pages 411 to 418, which is not as assigned reading]


From the early days of the Industrial Revolution (the early 1800s), skilled labour (artisans, blacksmiths, and other trades) moved to protect themselves by forming trade unions that could bargain as a unit, in the hopes of securing their employment, better wages and work conditions, and protect their trades.  Employers, eager to maximize their profits, resisted union organization, and argued that individual employees should be free to negotiate their own contracts.  They even argued that collective bargaining constituted "restraint of trade" (limited the ability of the business to compete, which was illegal).  This meant that collective bargaining was a criminal offence and that trade union members often faced imprisonment and/or loss of their jobs.


In 1872, after great efforts by workers to unionize both locally and nationally, the federal government passed the Trades Union Act, collective bargaining was no longer seen as a criminal act, but at the same time, employers were also not forced to recognize or negotiate with unions.  In 1886, in recognition of the appalling working conditions uncovered by a Royal Commission inquiry into workplace conditions, the Labour Day holiday was established.  The different levels of governments continued to take the side of employers when workers went out on strike, often brutally suppressing action with the aid of the militia or police force. In 1907, in response to ongoing and numerous strikes across the country, the government passed the Industrial Disputes Investigation Act, which effectively prohibited strikes in public utilities and mines.  


The famous Winnipeg General Strike of 1919, was significant because it demonstrated the depth and breadth of workers' frustration, not because it was successful.  While the government jailed many of the union leaders, it also recognized the need for labour reform and acknowledged the labour movement.  


It took a labour shortage during the Second World War for their to be formal recognition of unions and the collective bargaining process. The Ontario government passed the Collective Bargaining Act, which allowed employers and unions to bargain collectively, with any disputes heard by the Ontario Labour Court.  In 1944, the federal Cabinet passed order-in-council PC 1003, which formally recognized unions in Canada.  In 1948, this became entrenched into federal law with the Industrial Relations and Disputes Investigations Act.


In 1945,  a strike at a Ford Motor Company plant in Windsor that had both sides locked in their positions led to them both accepting binding arbitration.  Justice Ivan Rand was responsible for hearing both sides and making a decision.  One of his decisions in the case became known as the Rand Formula - in a union workplace (where the majority of workers are in the union), all employees must pay unions dues whether or not they join the union, and in return, if unions went on an illegal (wildcat) strike, workers could be fined and the union could lose its privileges.



Labour Relations Legislation

A trade union is a legal entity with a constitution and other legal rights and duties.  Its relationship to its members, and how it bargains on their behalf with an employer, is regulated by labour relations legislation, including the Ontario Labour Relations Act, and the Canada Labour Code.  In Ontario, the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) is an independent tribunal which attempts to interpret labour law while hearing cases brought before it by employers and employees (or the union that represents them).


For a trade union to legally represent its members, it must be certified by the OLRB.  To meet this requirement, at least 40% of the workers in the given workplace are members of the union and 50% or more of eligible employees support the union in a vote held by the OLRB.  Once certified, the employer must settle contract matters through the union's bargaining unit and not individual employees.


Assignment:  What Can a Union Do? 

The information can also be found by reading the textbook, pages 421 to 423

In your own words, define the following terms:

bargain in good faith




working conditions




Assignment:  Read the case Challenging the Rand Formula (page 433-434) and prepare to discuss questions 1 to 3 (page 434) 


Assignment Thinking and Inquiry, answer question 1, page 435.


Assignment Prepare to discuss the following question: "Who do you think is better able to protect the interests and safety of workers - a union or the government?"


Part Three:  The Changing Workplace 

Since the Second World War, there have been many factors that have affected the Canadian workforce, including:  new technologies (particularly robots and computers), less manufacturing and more service jobs, and global trade agreements.


Assignment:  Read pages 445-447, and answer questions 1 and 2, page 447.

Assignment:  Read pages 448-449, and answer questions 2 and 3, page 448.

Assignment:  Read pages 451-453.


Assignment Thinking and Inquiry, answer questions 1 and 2, page 462.





















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