Decent Work, Decent Lives – What’s in the Bills?

We have a real opportunity to effect change

This spring, we have a real opportunity to pass laws that will improve our wages and working conditions. There are now several important bills being considered by Members of Provincial Parliament. But we need to work together to make sure that these bills are strengthened and passed before the Legislative Assembly breaks for the summer. Even if an election is called, this is a recipe for change that we can all get behind.

Here’s what’s at stake:

Prohibiting recruitment fees for migrant workers

In order to work in Ontario, migrant workers pay unscrupulous recruiters tens of thousands of dollars in fees; many have little choice but to borrow the money. This debt makes migrant workers – and their families – vulnerable to loan sharks and unprincipled employers and makes it even more dangerous for migrant workers to speak out.

  • Bill 146 extends the ban on recruitment fees from live-in caregivers to all migrant workers.
  • Bill 161 gives Minister of Citizenship and Immigration the power to create registries for employers and recruiters but does not specify any details,
  • Bill 161 unfairly excludes low-waged migrant workers from access to immigration status

We can strengthen Bills 146 and modify Bill 161 by ensuring that:

  • There is a proactive and public system to license recruiters and register employers who hire migrant workers;
  • Recruiters are required to put forward a mandatory financial security in form of a bond, irrevocable letter of credit or deposit before being licensed;
  • Recruiters and employers are jointly and severally liable for any and all exploitative recruitment practices in Canada and abroad;
  • Employers are prohibited from charging any fees to migrant workers and that the onus of fee non-payment be on the recruiter, not the migrant worker;
  • The time limit on complaints be at least five years so that workers can seek justice after their contracts finish;
  • All migrant workers coming in to Ontario have access to full immigration status, access to social benefits, protections from reprisals and meaningful labour protections.

Maintaining the value of the minimum wage

For the past four years, the minimum wage has been frozen at $10.25. Meanwhile, the real value of minimum wage has been eroded by rising costs.

  • Bill 165 increases the minimum wage by the rate of inflation each year and sets up a process for reviewing the minimum wage every five years.

We can strengthen Bill 165 by ensuring that:

  • The minimum wage brings full-time workers 10% above the poverty line and be assessed regularly against this criterion; and
  • Reviews of the minimum wage be every two years, instead of every five years;
  • All minimum wage provisions apply to all workers, regardless of their age or occupation, or their student or citizenship status.

Regulating temporary agencies (temp agencies)

Temp agency workers typically earn 40% less than their co-workers hired directly by the company. Agency workers receive less pay, fewer or no benefits, little protection against employment rights violations and no protection against termination. Despite their temporary status, agency workers often work for months and years beside workers doing exactly the same work.

  • Bill 146 makes temp agencies and the client company jointly responsible for paying workers’ unpaid wages and overtime pay;
  • Bill 146 ensures the client company is responsible for workplace injury and accident costs involving agency workers;
  • Bill 159 stipulates that agency workers must receive 80% of the total wages [SS2] paid by the client company to the temp agency.
  • Bill 159 limits the proportion of agency workers in a company’s workforce to no more than 25%; small businesses are exempted from this provision;
  • Bill 159 obligates all temp agencies to have a license to operate in Ontario;

We can strengthen Bills 146 and 159 by ensuring that:

  • Temp agencies workers receive the same wages and working conditions afforded to workers hired directly by the client company.
  • Client companies are jointly responsible for all monetary and non-monetary entitlements under the ESA, not just wages and overtime.
  • Section 74.8(1)* is repealed to eliminate provisions by which client companies are prevented from hiring temp agency workers directly.
  • Temp agency workers are hired directly by the client company after a certain period of time and are protected from unfair dismissals by either the temp agency or the client company.

Curbing wage theft

All too often, Ontario workers work hard but don’t get paid. This is wage theft. A recent Workers’ Action Centre survey found that 1 in 3 workers in low wage, precarious jobs experienced wage theft in the last 5 years. Wage theft takes the form of unpaid wages, unpaid vacation pay or overtime pay as well as employers’ misclassification of employees as independent contractors. Interns – even those who are paid – are also vulnerable to wage theft. Within the hospitality sector, employers who withhold tips and gratuities from their employees or who require their employees to forfeit their tips and gratuities are engaging in wage theft.

  • Bill 146 extends the time limits for workers claim unpaid wages from 6 months to 2 years
  • Bill 146 eliminates the inadequate $10,000 limit on the amount of unpaid wages that can be claimed;
  • Bill 146 requires employers to provide each employee with a poster on their rights under the Employment Standards Act and, if requested, requires the employer to provide translated versions of the poster;
  • Bill 146 sets out new rules for employer self-audits;
  • Bill 49 prohibits employers from forcing employees to forfeit their tips and gratuities; and
  • Bill 170 asserts that individuals receiving training be protected by certain provisions of the Employment Standards Act.

We can strengthen Bill 146 by ensuring that:

  • Time limits for filing claims are extended to five years for migrant workers;
  • The onus is on the employer – not the worker – for providing translations of the employee rights poster;
  • The provision to provide an employee rights poster should come into effect immediately;
  • The elimination of the monetary cap and the extension of time limits on unpaid wage claims come into effect immediately upon passage of Bill 146.

Having a voice at work

More people are finding themselves in part-time, contract work, often juggling two or three jobs. By making it easier for us to join unions and work together to improve wages and working conditions, we are better able to turn bad jobs into better ones.

  • Bill 129 brings forward a number of important changes that would make it easier for us to form unions and have a voice at work.

Take action!

Although some of these bills need important changes to ensure we all have the strongest protection possible, these bills provide us with an opportunity we have not seen in a long time. By working together to get these bills strengthened and passed, we can lay the groundwork for decent work and decent lives for all of us.

That’s why we are calling on you to help get these bills strengthened and passed before the legislature adjourns for the summer – or for an election.

Can you join us and help us get these bills strengthened and passed?

  1. Click here now to send a message to your MPP.
  2. Organize an action in your community on April 14th – a provincial day of action for decent pay and decent work.
  3. Call us or email us to find out how you can make a deputation to a legislative committee – coordinator@migrantworkersalliance.org
  4. Find out more about the issues:

New bill pushes government for better protections of temp agency workers
What’s in Bill 146?
New bill to index minimum wage to cost of living 
Migrant workers respond to proposed Ontario law
Towards a Fair Ontario Immigration Act

Fair Ontario Immigration Act

Fair Ontario Immigration Act

On February 19, 2013, the Ontario Liberals introduced the Ontario Immigration Act (Bill 161). Through Bill 161, the government is seeking control over immigration to Ontario. An important goal of the bill is to enable “immigrants to settle in Ontario and integrate quickly into and to participate fully in Ontario society.” As currently written, however, Bill 161 will not achieve this goal for the majority of migrant workers that come to this province.  It is essential that key revisions be made to this Bill, otherwise new legislation will be necessary.

A genuine Ontario Immigration Act must include just access for migrant workers. This means:

  • Inclusion: Full immigration status and access to benefits
  • Accountability: regulating recruiters and employers
  • Breaking down silos: Cooperation between governments
  • Proactive enforcement

Bill 161 fails to do so.

In bringing forward much-needed policy and legislation on immigration and migrant workers in this province, the government has the opportunity to create a legislative framework of fairness; a framework grounded on the principle that workers that come to work and build this province should be allowed to stay if they chose and access the benefits of their labour. In short, Ontario’s immigration policy must support access to residency status to all workers and protection for temporary workers from recruiter and employer exploitation. The Bill fails to do this.

Unfortunately, Bill 161 appears to be focused on bringing Ontario in line with the federal government’s “Expression –of-Interest” model of immigration slated to come into effect next year. This new federal system will set up a system to allow governments and employers to select immigrants based on employment and labour market needs. Bill 161 would enable the Ontario government to create selection programs for permanent residents (for example, under the Provincial Nominee Program) or temporary workers (for example, under the temporary foreign worker program).  The Bill would also allow the government to set up a registry of employers and recruiters to participate in selection programs.

The government is seeking to be more competitive with other jurisdictions in order to boost Ontario’s economic class immigrants from the current 52% to 70% of all immigrants to the province. It would do this through an increase in the number of immigrants that Ontario can select under the Provincial Nominee Program from the current 2,500 to 5,000 per year with a focus on economic class immigrants rather than workers that continue to build the province through temporary foreign workers programs (construction, caregiving, farming, hospitality services etc).

We are concerned that Bill 161 will give recruiters and employers more control over the immigration selection process and not civil society. There is nothing in the Bill to address the exorbitant fees that recruiters charge workers for employment under these programs. Nor is there anything in the bill to address substandard employment conditions that all too many migrant workers face that come through such selection programs. The Ontario Government is going in the opposite direction of the best practices established by Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia that have legislated proactive protection from exploitation by recruiters and employers.

Download our analysis of Bill 161 and what a genuine Ontario immigration act would be:  Creating a Genuine and Fair Ontario Immigration Act.

Get in touch with coordinator@migrantworkersalliance.org if you would like to depute on this Bill.