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Ontario Liberals ‘dropped the ball’ on worker protection bill - Activists say temporary and migrant workers remain vulnerable under Liberal reforms, which focus on wages but not other employee rights.
Workers’ rights advocates are warning the Ontario government’s proposed worker fairness bill requires urgent amendments, after the legislature moved on Monday to expedite the passage of the law.
Bill 18 is a conglomerate of two previous workplace protection bills that fell victim to political paralysis under the Liberal minority government. Earlier this week, Liberal MP and former Minister of Labour Yasir Naqvi put forth a time allocation motion to send the bill to a committee hearing on Thursday and to its third and final reading on Tuesday.
“Although it is our government’s preference to allow bills to progress through the normal course, these types of motions are sometimes necessary, especially when there are bills from the last Parliament that Ontarians are counting on us to pass,” Naqvi told the legislative assembly on Monday.
But Deena Ladd, of the Workers Action Centre, who appeared before Thursday’s committee, said she was concerned that Bill 18 in its current form does not require companies who use temporary employees to take adequate responsibility for them.
Currently, companies who hire workers through agencies are not responsible for any of the employees’ rights under the Employment Standards Act. If passed, Bill 18 will make client companies and temp agencies jointly responsible for workers’ unpaid wages and overtime. But all other worker rights under the ESA will remain under the purview of agencies that often have little to no contact with temporary employees once they are hired by a client company.
Ladd said: “[The government] is missing the boat if they don’t make sure that it’s applied to all standards, and in particular I think, being able to take an emergency sick day, (to receive) public holiday pay — just a few basic entitlements like that.
How can you have the client company only responsible for wages and overtime, when in fact they control every single aspect of your job?”
One temporary worker, who asked to be identified simply as J. Chung over concerns about future employment through his agency, told the Star on Wednesday:
“The problem of being a temporary worker is that you don’t know who you go to, or has authority over you, and that makes a tricky situation. I know that a lot of the time, my co-workers and I — we’re reluctant to take sick days because you always worry … they might not like that.
“It’s just a sense of powerlessness, because under the legislation you don’t feel like you’re secure in the job. You don’t feel like you have something protecting you.”
In an example of the vicissitudes of temporary employment, Chung received a call from his boss on Thursday telling him not to come in for his afternoon shift. The warehouse that had employed him for four months was cutting down on staff, and he was no longer needed.
Chung, a university graduate, said he had received minimum wage for the manual labour positions while permanent co-workers in similar roles were paid around $25 an hour. Undesirable or dangerous workplace tasks, he said, were often shifted to temporary employees like himself.
On Thursday, the NDP said the party would move an amendment to make both client companies and temp agencies jointly responsible for all worker’s rights under the Employment Standards Act. However, because of the time allocation placed on the bill, debate will be limited to a few hours on Monday.
Jagmeet Singh, NDP critic for government and consumer services, questioned the government’s haste, telling the Star: “Why are we limiting it to just unpaid wages? Why stop there? Why should it be the case that just because I’m a temporary worker, I enjoy different rights? The government is ramming this through too quickly. We’re saying we should be extending all the rights that Ontarians enjoy under the ESA, (which) should apply both to a permanent worker and a temporary worker.”
The Workers Action Centre also called on politicians to remove from Bill 18 a proposed grace period that would prevent workers from making wage theft claims of more than $10,000 for six months.
Liza Draman, a live-in caregiver and volunteer with the Caregivers Action Centre, also took issue with the bill’s migrant worker provisions. Although the proposed legislation will extend the protections that exist for live-in caregivers to all migrant workers in Ontario, including a ban on recruitment fees, the bill won’t require registration by recruiting firms.
“It will lead to more protection for workers if the recruiters (are) registered … If there is some abuse, they could easily be traced or tracked down,” Draman told the Star.
Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia have already taken steps to register employers that use migrant labour, to license recruiting firms, and to require them to provide a security deposit to compensate workers when recruiters break the law.
“Ontario has dropped the ball,” said Syed Hussan, of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change. “This is the province with the largest number of migrant workers and basically the weakest protections.”
Craig MacBride, a spokesperson for the labour minister, said Bill 18 was “a wide-ranging bill that will increase protections and benefits for vulnerable workers, from co-op students and temporary foreign workers to those who make minimum wage. If passed, Bill 18 will ensure that every Ontarian gets the paycheque they have earned, that vulnerable workers are protected from dangerous work situations, that temporary foreign workers aren’t forced to give up their documents, and that temp agencies that play by the rules can better compete.”
McBride added that one of the main features of the bill is the annual increase to the minimum wage, based on the Consumer Price Index. In order for that to come into effect in time for next year, the bill needs to pass through the legislature.
wage, Bill 18, Migrant Worker Rights, Liberals, Policy Reform
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