The Ontario government is set to introduce the province’s toughest rules for businesses that hire temporary workers, including a system to shut down temp agencies that exploit staff, CBC News has learned.
Senior labor ministry officials say the plans include compulsory licenses for temporary help agencies, giving the province the power to stop businesses from operating if they violate employment standards.
The government will also create a dedicated team of inspectors to eradicate the illegal treatment of workers and recover unpaid wages.
The announcement, which will be made Monday morning, will be the first in a series of employment-related measures from the Ford government. The Minister of Labor, Training and Skills Development, Monte McNaughton, describes these measures as a “rebalancing of the balance” between vulnerable workers and large companies.
“We’re going to shed some light on these bad industry players, temp agencies and illegal recruiters,” McNaughton told CBC News in an interview before his announcement.
The changes will be part of upcoming legislation that will make Ontario’s protection of temporary workers the strongest in Canada, he said.
McNaughton said he especially wanted to stop companies that exploit temporary foreign workers by withholding their passports or paying them less than minimum wage.
“This is modern day slavery, it is unacceptable,” he said, promising “to truly stand up for women, immigrants, racialized communities, those in low income communities and the working people who are affected by these unscrupulous things happening. “
Inspectors found $ 3.3 million in unpaid wages
Over 2,000 temporary help agencies in Ontario place hundreds of thousands of workers in seasonal and short-term jobs each year, in industries ranging from tourism to office work to agriculture.
Some temp companies, including some that hire temporary foreign workers, have been caught out of compliance with Ontario’s employment law regarding payment of minimum wage, overtime and vacation pay to workers.
In a 2020-2021 Ministry of Labor law enforcement campaign focused on temp agencies supplying workers to retirement homes, farms, food processing plants and warehouses, inspectors have found evidence of $ 3.3 million in unpaid wages.
The metrics that will be unveiled by McNaughton on Monday include:
- new sanctions against temp companies that violate basic safety and employment standards;
- new powers to compel companies to reimburse illegal recruitment fees, including the requirement to post a bond;
- a new verification process that all temporary help agencies must go through before the province issues a business license.
The licensing requirement would go into effect in 2023. McNaughton said the system would prevent companies that violate the rules from undermining those that do.
Government officials say the measures will allow the province to impose penalties on recruiting firms that bring workers to Ontario, regardless of the jurisdiction in which they are based.
Temporary help agencies employed approximately 128,000 full-time workers in Ontario in 2019, according to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.
The boom in the use of temp agencies across the country can be seen in Statistics Canada figures, which show a 34% increase in their income in the four years between 2015 and 2019.
The new rules for temp agencies are just a few of the worker protections soon to be put in place by the Progressive Conservative government, McNaughton reported at a large union meeting last week.
“We will introduce legislation this month focused on protecting all workers, because that is enough and we can do better,” he said in a speech to the Provincial Building’s annual general meeting and Construction Trades Council, a coordination group of unions.
“We are going to rebalance the scales,” McNaughton added in the speech.
“Tip the workers,” he said in an interview. “I think the pandemic has really highlighted how these big, multi-billion dollar corporations, these elites, have taken advantage of people, and we have to make sure that we have a society where workers are protected.”
Ford rolled back labor reforms when elected
These measures could be seen as an attempt by the province to change the perception that it favors business owners over workers.
Premier Doug Ford came to power in 2018 on a promise to make Ontario ‘open for business’ by eliminating what he called stifling red tape and regulations – steps labor rights advocates saw as crucial protections for workers.
One of the first major steps of his government was a drastic rollback of the labor reforms put in place by the former Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne.
These reforms gave all workers in Ontario a minimum of two days of paid sick leave, required employers to pay part-time and casual staff at the same rate as full-time workers, and made it easier for employees to join. from certain sectors to unions.
Under intense lobbying from the business community, the Progressive Conservatives have removed the protections.
The Ford government also froze Ontario’s minimum wage for two years. The minimum hourly wage rose 10 cents on October 1 to $ 14.35.