Labour Minister Kevin Flynn revives Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act that would clamp down on employers and employment agencies that violate workers’ rights
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Lilliane Namukasa knows what it’s like to be a vulnerable worker.
So the 27-year-old, who arrived from Uganda in 2008 to work as a nanny for a Brampton family only to find herself in court suing for lost wages, is thrilled the Ontario government is strengthening labour laws.
“I’m so glad for the changes that have been introduced,” she said Wednesday after Labour Minister Kevin Flynn announced he was reviving legislation that had died after the June 12 election was called.
Namukasa’s former employer owes her $195,000, including $162,000 in unpaid wages, overtime, vacation, public holiday and other Employment Standards Act violations, and $33,000 for wrongful dismissal.
The George Brown College student said the elimination of the $10,000 cap on the recovery of unpaid wages and further changes should help others in her situation.
“I was forced to go to court to fight for my wages not . . . to the ministry of labour. This is a great victory for Ontario workers.”
Flynn said the Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act will “protect the most vulnerable workers and level the playing field for employers who play by the rules.”
It will prevent employers from charging recruitment fees or seizing documents — such as passports — from temporary foreign workers.
As well, it will boost the number of enforcement officers and inspectors to clamp down on employment agencies that violate workers’ rights.
The bill, which was originally introduced last December, will also tie future increases to the $11 hourly minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index.
“Taking the politics out of setting the minimum wage provides fairness for workers and predictability for businesses,” said Flynn.
Syed Hussan, co-ordinator for the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, said the law is a start, but more needs to be done.
“It’s a good step, but it actually isn’t real enforcement,” he said.
“The recruitment protections that are being brought in today are not accompanied with an employer registry, a recruiter registry . . . which is what Manitoba is doing, Saskatchewan’s doing, Alberta is doing and the federal government is now asking every province to do.”
Advocates would like to see a registry requiring recruiters and employers to contribute to a fund that would compensate abused workers.
The government said the number of temporary foreign workers in Ontario has jumped from 91,000 in 2008 to 120,000 in 2012.
Wednesday’s legislation is part of the Liberal government’s poverty reduction strategy.
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