BV mayor describes electronic monitoring of employees as Orwellian

Eganville – Bonnechere Valley Mayor Jennifer Murphy is not pleased with a new provincially-mandated requirement for a written policy on electronic monitoring of employees, calling it Orwellian.

“It is 1984 in 2022,” she told a committee meeting of council last Tuesday. “The name employee monitoring is so offensive to me.”

The mayor – who serves as the chair of the Finance and Administration Committee at Renfrew County – said when this was brought up at that committee all the mayors spoke against it. However, it was brought forward as a recommendation to Renfrew County council, where it will be discussed today (Wednesday).

The requirement for a written policy on employee monitoring is part of Bill 88 – Ontario’s Working for Workers Act, 2022. Background information provided notes the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development updated its online guide to the Employment Standards Act, 2000 to include a chapter on written policy on electronic monitoring of employees. It applies to any organization with over 25 employees.

CAO Annette Gilchirst noted in her report, “with our GPS units we will require a policy and I have attached a draft one for consideration. If approved we will pass the policy by by-law Oct 4th.”

However, Mayor Murphy cautioned it is not just employees who can be monitored and council needs to be cautious with this.

“Even though it says employee, it does include council,” she stressed.

“I thought we were beyond that,” Councillor Merv Buckwald said.

Councillor Tim Schison said many people in the workplace are already being monitored, including with GPS on their movements and activities, especially those with any kind of a professional driving designation.

“I don’t like it,” Mayor Murphy said. “I don’t agree with it.”

However, she said this is a provincial directive and is coming down to municipalities from Queen’s Park.

“I understand we don’t have much choice; we are creatures of the province,” she said.

This is not something the township would have instituted on their own, she stressed.

“I want the employees to understand we trust them,” the mayor added.

Coun. Schison said while he recognizes monitoring is occurring in many sectors already, he did not want to imply he agrees with it.

“In no way, shape or form am I in favour of this,” he said.

Mrs. Gilchirst explained it is a liability issue and this is why the requirement for a written policy was developed.

“It’s not that we don’t trust our employees,” she said.

The policy shows that if someone is operating a piece of municipal equipment, they can be monitored, she stressed.

“It is not that we are monitoring everything out there, but we could,” she said. “They at least have the forewarning we can look at your stuff.”

Councillor Brent Patrick said if this is an area of practice already, like the GPS system on the trucks, perhaps it is making people aware of the fact they can be monitored.

Mrs. Gilchrist said the employee standards act is there and this is notifying employees on what is occurring.

“You should not be surprised this can happen,” she said.

Mayor Murphy said this is a new policy by the province and there were a lot of other things included in the bill.

“I want everyone to realize it should say employees and council,” she repeated.

According to the information in the County of Renfrew agenda, a copy of the policy on electronic monitoring must be given to all employees. “The policy must state whether or not the employer electronically monitors employees,” the report stated. “If the employer does, the policy must include: a description of how and in what circumstances the employer may electronically monitor employees; the purposes for which the information obtained through electronic monitoring may be used by the employer; the date the policy was prepared and the date any changes were made to the policy, and such other information as may be prescribed.”

Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader