Laurie Monsebraaten and Zoe McKnight
Ontario is expected to introduce new labour laws to protect “precarious” workers and unpaid interns from wage theft and other workplace abuses.
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Labour Minister Yasir Naqvi is expected to announce new labour legislation Wednesday to protect so-called “precarious” workers in Ontario, who are often victims of wage theft and other workplace abuses , the Star has learned
Under the proposed legislation, companies that hire temporary agencies would be liable for unpaid wages, severance pay and other Employment Standards Act violations suffered by temporary agency workers.
If passed, Ontario would be the first province in Canada to enact so-called “joint and several liability” for temporary help agencies and their client companies.
The labour law reforms are also expected to expand workers’ ability to claim unpaid wages, ban recruitment fees for all migrant workers and extend workplace health and safety protection for unpaid interns, sources familiar with the legislation told the Star.
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Many of Naqvi’s proposed changes were recommended in a sweeping report on precarious employment released last summer by the Law Commission of Ontario.
According to a groundbreaking study released last February , by McMaster University and United Way Toronto, a staggering 50 per cent of Ontario workers at all income levels are engaged in precarious work — which is described as temporary, with no benefits and often low-paying.
In one of her first public appearances after winning the Liberal leadership last winter, Premier Kathleen Wynne told a Toronto symposium on precarious employment that she is eager to tackle the issue.
“There has to be a real will and intentional direction in this, and I want to be part of this with you,” Wynne told the meeting of academics and community, labour and private-sector leaders.
More protection for temporary agency workers is long overdue, said Deena Ladd of the Workers’ Action Centre, a non-profit collective.
To cut costs, large companies and even government departments use temporary agencies to staff warehouses, accounting departments and manufacturing operations, Ladd said.
“The way things are now, a client company can have someone working for them for five years as a temp worker but never be held responsible for any of their working conditions,” she said.
“Hopefully, under this bill, these companies will now be held jointly liable — which means they would have to think about their business practices.”
The proposed legislation is also expected to eliminate the $10,000 cap on unpaid wages and increase time limits to two years.
Currently, workers have only six months to lodge a monetary complaint against an employer. And then they can only recoup wages going back six months from the time they complain.
In 2009, the province passed legislation banning employers or recruiters from charging recruitment fees for live-in caregivers. Changes proposed this week are expected to extend this protection to all migrant workers.
This fall, the Star revealed that the province’s cornerstone workplace safety laws do not cover unpaid interns , a growing sector of the workforce.
As a response to the story, Naqvi said in October he wanted to bring co-op students under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to ensure they have the same rights and protections as other workers. Sources say Wednesday’s proposed legislation will make good on that pledge.
Ladd hopes any new legislation comes with additional resources to enforce it. “Effective enforcement means employers will be forced to comply and workers will feel their rights are being upheld.”
It’s an issue MPP Jonah Schein (NDP, Davenport) wants to address in an upcoming bill.
Schein shares the riding with federal NDP counterpart Andrew Cash, who announced a federal private member’s bill this fall that would create a National Urban Worker Strategy. Schein hopes to introduce a similar bill before the winter break.
Davenport is a young riding full of young people struggling with employment issues, Schein said.
“An urban workforce with absolutely no job security, no sick days, no hope of a pension … the pressures on young people around work are extraordinary,” he said.
Schein’s bill would introduce requirements for rights education posters in the workplace, and better transparency.
“We should be tracking this,” he said.
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