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Modernizing Workplace Laws to Protect Contractors


Workplaces are changing. Organizations are increasingly relying more on contractors to do non-core functions. Digitization has developed radically new business models, with a shift towards new employment relationships through the evolution of platforms like Uber. To respond to these changes, two Canadian provinces are updating their workplace legislation, and they will likely be the first of many.

After a generation without change, Alberta and Ontario are not wasting any more time in getting new laws passed. Alberta introduced the Fair and Family-friendly Workplaces Act to the assembly on May 24th 2017 and it received royal assent on June 7th 2017. Ontario’s Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act was introduced on June 1st 2017 and was moving through the legislative process quickly before the start of the summer break. Others are following.  Manitoba launched its own review May 1st 2017 of the Workplace Safety and Health Act.

One major area of focus for both provinces is the blurring of lines between employees and contractors. Temporary workers have grown rapidly in Canada to over 2 million today, often doing work that could normally be categorized as that of an employee.(1) The argument both governments put forward is that the shift towards contract work often causes a widening of pay gaps, and creates a two-tier system around benefits and treatment of staff, impacting the wellbeing of individuals and families.

Contractors' Safety Is Important

Temporary workers or contractors can get a raw deal on shifts, they can miss out on training, and they may not feel comfortable about raising concerns. This has implications for safety. Tired workers are 75 percent more likely to have an accident.(2) Add that to the fact that inexperienced workers are three times more likely to be injured(3), and you begin to get a sense of how vulnerable they are. Alberta and Ontario hope to address this as part of their ongoing work.

Although there was little focus directly on health and safety, the key takeaway from both Alberta and Ontario is that contractors are going to get much better protection as they will be treated more like employees. Alberta introduced a new classification of “dependent contractor” describing people who rely on one organization for their livelihood. Ontario stopped short of this, but the government has indicated it would look to better enforcement of existing rules. Both will  aim to achieve greater protection for contractors, and putting the burden of proof on employers if they are found to be in breach of any of their workplace obligations.

Through the process for Ontario, the sense was that although health and safety laws were generally sufficient, more value may be found in stricter enforcement. The challenge for companies will be to ensure that their contractors have the required training and certifications, and any other entitlements.

Labour groups would like to see greater action taken when companies are found to be in breach of their obligations. They want all workplace accidents treated with the same diligence applied to criminal investigations. Governments are receptive to taking a tougher line. Enforcement is going to be ramped up significantly to make sure contractors are getting treated fairly, as are penalties when companies are found to be negligent.


How Technology Helps

The internet has made supply chains global and incredibly complex. Checking that certifications are up to date for all contractors and suppliers is time consuming and difficult to manage, but that is no longer an excuse.

Digital technology has made it possible to manage the process much more effectively. It is now possible to check instantly if a contractor has the required boxes ticked. This also frees up time for procurement, and health and safety professionals to focus on more value-added activities.

Change is coming rapidly to workplaces across Canada, and new rules and regulations are following closely behind. As a result, organizations can expect their relationships with suppliers and contractors to be under a lot more scrutiny.


  1. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/jobs/canadas-shift-to-a-nation-of-temporary-workers/article11721139/
  2. http://www.cos-mag.com/health-page/health-page-stories/4706-pshsa-launches-research-initiative-for-workplace-fatigue.html
  3. http://www.iwh.on.ca/at-work/69/study-finds-persistence-of-higher-injury-risk-for-new-workers
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