May 22, 2009
Hon. Peter Fonseca
Minister of Labour
400 University Ave.
I would like to congratulate you and your staff at the Ministry of Labour for the introduction of Bill 168, the Occupational Health and Safety Amendment Act, 2009, addressing violence and harassment in the workplace.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission believes this type of legislation, which includes requirements for employers to develop policies and programs, provide information, have regard for domestic violence, and take action, is very important for helping to protect and promote the human rights of individuals at work.
While the Bill’s definition of “workplace violence” is restricted to “physical force” against a co-worker, the Commission is pleased to see provisions in the Bill addressing both violence and harassment, including a definition of harassment covering both unwelcome conduct and comment, consistent with the Ontario Human Rights Code.
And while the Bill would require employers to assess the risk of workplace violence, there is, however, no similar provision for assessing risk of harassment.
In our experience, violence is often the culmination of ongoing acts of harassment. Moreover, harassment and violence are not necessarily always physical; they can also take the form of psychological/emotional harm. Risk assessment, prevention and protection efforts should account for these interrelated dimensions of harassment and violence. The Ministry might wish to consider broadening the Bill in this regard.
Overall, the proposed Bill would be a very positive step forward, bringing about internal workplace mechanisms for dealing with harassment and violence across Ontario; something the Commission could only previously achieve one case at a time through public interest remedies under its mediation and litigation work. Rather, this type of legislation would compliment Ontario’s human rights system and the Commission’s new mandate to undertake systemic outreach, education, monitoring, inquiries and legal intervention.
Equally significant, the proposed legislation is in keeping with certain Ontario Coroner recommendations from the 1997 Theresa Vince Inquest, the 2002 Gillian Hadley Inquest and the 2007 Lori Dupont Inquest examining the tragic murders of these women – Vince and Dupont at the hands of their colleagues, and Hadley who faced workplace harassment from her in-laws and was eventually murdered by her ex-husband.
Your Ministry should also be commended for other related initiatives including: the recent passage of the Employment Standards Amendment Act (Temporary Help Agencies), 2009; the announcement of a new help hotline for foreign domestic workers; and, a commitment to introduce legislation later this year that would ban foreign domestic worker placement fees and begin targeted enforcement of agencies that breach Ontario’s labour laws. These initiatives will help promote and protect the human rights of newcomers to Canada who often face discrimination because of sex, place of origin, ethnic origin, race and other related grounds.
The Commission will be following with great interest the upcoming legislative and committee debates, and we look forward to reviewing the next version of the Bill and its final passage.
In the meantime, please feel free to contact the Commission. We’ve had a long history of helping to address workplace harassment through litigation, policy and guideline development, public education and partnership. We would be pleased to offer you or your staff any assistance we can.
ORIGINAL SIGNED BY
Barbara Hall, B.A, LL.B, Ph.D (hon.)
Hon. Deb Matthews
Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues
Pat Hoy, MPP