The magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic is evident in so many ways on both a global and local basis. The pandemic presents a serious challenge to many employers in deploying their staff in an efficient, nimble way. Over the past few weeks, the Ontario government has issued Regulations under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act that relate to service agencies providing supports to women experiencing violence, District Social Services Administration Boards, and LHIN service providers, and those which are aimed at preventing, reducing or mitigating the effect of COVID-19 on these services. Most recently, on April 16th, a Regulation was issued pertaining to municipalities.
The focus of this message is Regulation 157/20, which deals with work deployment measures for municipalities. The Regulation authorizes municipalities to identify staffing priorities and develop, modify and implement redeployment plans with respect to certain specific Critical Services, which are as follows:
a) the maintenance of municipal long-term care homes;
b) the delivery of public health services;
c) the operation of homeless shelters and the provision of services to homeless persons;
d) the provision of drinking water;
e) waste management and sanitation;
f) wastewater management;
g) public transportation services operated by the municipality;
h) the provision of assistance under the Ontario Works Act, 1997, if the municipality is designated as a delivery agent under that Act;
i) the administration, operation and funding of child care programs and services under the Child Care and Early Years Act, 2014;
j) the enforcement of by-laws; and
k) services related to the implementation of the municipality’s emergency plan.
The redeployment plans can be developed without regard to any other statute, regulation, order, policy, arrangement or agreement, including a collective agreement (including its lay-off, seniority/service or bumping provisions). It is highly unusual for a government to override collective agreements bargained between Ontario employers and their bargaining agents. That this Regulation allows that to happen is indicative of the public health risk presented by COVID-19 to citizens of this province.
The Regulation applies to every municipality that has declared an emergency as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but does not cover:
- firefighters within the meaning of the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, 1997;
- employees employed by a municipality in the operation of ambulance services within the meaning of the Ambulance Act, including paramedics;
- employees employed at municipal drinking water systems or at wastewater collection facilities or wastewater treatment facilities operated by a municipality (a separate order applies to these employees);
- employees employed at long-term care homes maintained by a municipality (a separate order applies to these employees); or
- employees employed at a board of health within the meaning of subsection 1 (1) of the Health Protection and Promotion Act if the employer is a municipality (a separate order applies to these employees).
The redeployment options available to municipalities include:
- redeploying staff within different locations in the municipality;
- changing the assignment of work, including assigning non-bargaining unit employees or contractors to perform bargaining unit work;
- changing the scheduling of work or shift assignments;
- deferring or cancelling vacations, absences or other leaves, regardless of whether such vacations, absences or leaves are established by statute, regulation, agreement or otherwise;
- employing extra part-time or temporary staff or contractors, including for the purposes of performing bargaining unit work;
- using volunteers to perform work, including to perform bargaining unit work; and
- providing appropriate training or education as needed to staff and volunteers to achieve the purposes of a redeployment plan.
At least 24 hours’ notice must be provided by the municipality to the applicable bargaining agent before implementing a redeployment plan.
Municipalities are authorized to conduct skills and experience inventories of staff to identify if they are able to work in possible roles in priority areas, and to require and collect information from staff, contractors or volunteers about their availability to provide services and about their likely or actual exposure to COVID-19 or other health conditions that may affect their ability to provide services.
A municipality may cancel or postpone services that are not related to the COVID-19 response identified in the Regulation or not deemed to be critical by a municipality’s emergency plan.
In a letter to the heads of Council dated April 16, the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing provides the following guidance:
“In making staffing decisions, first provide opportunity for full-time work to existing part-time staff before seeking out and employing extra full-time staff from outside your organization.”
“In redeploying staff, should there be a difference in the terms and conditions of work, in the different departments of the organization, the expectation is that staff will not receive a lower wage than their home position.”
It remains to be seen whether other Regulations will be passed that affect employers in other sectors of the economy.