The LCO is taking on a 121-old statute as one of its newest law reform projects. A consultation paper, released in October, asks whether or not the Ontario Forestry Workers Lien for Wages Act, enacted in 1891, still makes sense in light of modern law and lumber practices. Under the statute, forestry workers are entitled to claim a lien for wages on certain wood products.
“It’s not just a question or whether the Act makes sense, but whether it does more harm than good,” explains LCO research lawyer Sue Gratton. “The Act was conceived to protect workers’ interests, but if today’s workers need to engage in expensive litigation to protect those interests then it undermines their ability to secure their work.”
The statute has not been updated since its establishment.
“This is a classic law reform project tackling a very practical issue,” says Eddie Clark, an SJD candidate at the University of Toronto who drafted the consultation paper this summer. Clark’s research involved interviews with stakeholders in the logging industry, including the lawyers representing the workers and the lumber industry in a Superior Court action that led to the project. More than 46,000 Ontarians are currently employed in the province’s $1.1 billion forestry industry.
Gratton, who is leading the next and final phases of the project, is speaking with mill owners, loggers, First Nations and other stakeholders in the logging industry, as well as lawyers and academics. The consultations, which will continue until December 14, will be used to help frame a final report for release in 2013.
One possibility is that the Act is no longer relevant given developments in secured transactions law and bankruptcy and insolvency law. “Ultimately,” Gratton says, “our intention is to produce recommendations to help bring the subject of the Act into modern times.”