The current proposals to amend Ontario’s collective bargaining laws have given rise to a loud, and frequently intemperate, debate that has not only divided Ontario’s labour relations community but has now moved to the centre of Ontario’s political stage. Underlying this debate is a realignment of the relative political influence of business and labour that came with the NDP’s election victory in the fall of 1990. Labour, after it recovered from the initial surprise of seeing its political ally actually form the government, quickly realized that it now had access to the highest levels of government. Business, on the other hand, faced with the cold reality that it, rather than labour, was now on the outside began to feel increasingly insecure. This major political shift in Ontario occurred just as Ontario was on the verge of experiencing the most severe economic downturn since the early 1930s, a factor that has further exacerbated the present debate over labour law reform.
The present debate has now focused on the discussion paper released by Ontario’s Ministry of Labour last November. Within this paper are set out a number of ‘preferred options for reforms.’ These ‘preferred options’ include a new preamble to the Act that expressly recognizes the right to organize and participate in lawful trade union activities; the desirability of improving terms and conditions of employment through collective bargaining; the need to enhance the ability of employers and trade unions to adapt to change; the desirability of settling collective bargaining differences and providing procedures for the expeditious resolution of disputes.
This publication is a revised version of a speech given on March 24, 1992, at the EquiNet Conference, ‘How to Prepare Now for the Amendments to the Ontario Labour Relations Act’.