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House Statement
by the Honourable Yasir Naqvi
Minister of Labour
on the Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act

  • Issued: December 4, 2013
  • Content last reviewed: December 2013

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Speaker, our government is committed to standing up for Ontario's workers, and that means strengthening workplace protections and increasing fairness for both employees and businesses.

Therefore, it is truly a pleasure to rise for the introduction of our proposed legislation, the Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act.

Our government recognizes that the nature of work is changing and that our rules have to keep up.

And this bill is about taking action to protect vulnerable workers and levelling the playing field for employers who play by the rules.

I want to thank both the United Way and the Law Commission of Ontario for joining me earlier today as I discussed this proposed legislation and for spearheading both a dialogue around these important issues and for putting forward many thoughtful solutions which are reflected in this bill.

It shows that out of positive conversations and constructive recommendations, comes real and meaningful action to protect Ontarians.

We are doing this because it is the right thing to do and is an essential part of ensuring we help grow our province the right way.

We are investing in our people by strengthening workplace protections and supporting a dynamic business environment that increases fairness for companies.

The world of work is changing. The number of temporary foreign workers in Ontario has risen from 91,000 in 2008 to 120,000 in 2012.

Now is the time to act.

Our proposed changes will help level the playing field for businesses and increase workplace protections to make sure workers are being treated fairly.

Speaker, no one should ever have to surrender their passport or be promised a job that doesn't exist, or be charged for inappropriate recruitment fees.

That is why the proposed changes would amend the Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act our government passed in 2009 to apply to all temporary foreign workers in Ontario who are here through immigration or temporary foreign worker programs.

This would mean temporary foreign workers would have protection against being charged recruitment fees and having personal documents, such as passports, withheld by employers.

People in this province work hard, and at the end of their shift, or rounds, they deserve to be paid for that work.

And if they're operating a business, they deserve to know their competitor isn't undercutting them by not paying their workers.

Unfortunately, right now, there are both time and monetary limits on claiming unpaid wages.

So we are making it easier for workers to get the money owed to them by proposing to remove the $10,000 cap under the Employment Standards Act on the recovery of unpaid wages through a Ministry of Labour order to pay.

That means employees would no longer be forced to pursue larger claims through the courts, saving both workers and businesses time and money.

If passed, Ontario will also increase the time limit for recovery of wages under the Employment Standards Act to two years. So older claims are dealt with fairly and workers get the money they are owed.

Our proposed legislation would require employers to provide a free Employment Standards Act handout to employees. A translation would also have to be provided in a language requested by the employee, if available from the Ministry of Labour.

And these new protections, if passed, will better protect workers recruited through Temporary Help Agencies by establishing joint and several liability between agencies and their clients for failure to pay wages. This will help level the playing field for good employers.

Clients of agencies would be liable for regular wages and overtime pay if the agencies don't pay up, encouraging those companies to use agencies that treat employees fairly.

Speaker, we also know safe workplaces come down to people looking after one another.

The Ministry of Labour has been undergoing its largest transformation in the last thirty years, creating a culture that puts health and safety at the centre of every workplace

Because our job is to make sure workers go home to their families at the end of theirs.

That is what people expect when they go to work, or their co-op placement and that is what they deserve.

Speaker, Ontario has very clear rules that if you are performing work for someone, you are entitled to rights and protections under both the Employment Standards Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

That means you must be paid at least minimum wage, no matter what your job title is or what you agreed to when you started working there.

The only exceptions are people who are self-employed, trainees or co-op students or unpaid learners performing work for course credit as part of a high school or university or college of applied arts and technology program.

We know that co-op students already have the right to a safe workplace and the Ministry of Labour has strong rules in place to ensure all workplaces, including these co-op work placements, are safe.

But they do not have individual protections and that is not right.

This bill, if passed, would extend that coverage of the Occupational Health and Safety Act to unpaid co-op students and other unpaid trainees and learners, ensuring they have the same individual rights and protections as other workers.

This makes sense.

And to help proactively protect workers, this bill would also give the Ministry of Labour the authority to require self-audits of safety standards to extend our protections to more workplaces.

Workers should never be asked to do the most dangerous jobs based on whether they are recruited through a temporary help agency.

Our government was the first in Canada to introduce legislation specifically addressing Temporary Help Agencies in 2009 that:

  • Made sure employees were not unfairly prevented from being hired directly by employers.
  • Prohibited agencies from charging fees to workers for such things as resume writing and interview preparation.
  • Required agencies to provide employees with information about their rights under the Employment Standards Act.

Today we are building on that because right now these agencies, not the companies, are deemed to be the temporary worker's employer under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act.

So injuries suffered by temporary help agency workers while performing work for client employers are attributed to temporary employment agencies who participate in experience rating programs.

This situation creates a potential incentive for client employers to "contract out" more dangerous work to temporary help agencies.

If a temporary help agency worker is injured, the injury and related accident costs do not affect the client employer's premium, but rather they negatively affect the temporary help agency's premium.

The proposed legislation would, if passed, encourage client employers to provide and maintain safe and healthy working conditions for all workers in their workplaces, including temporary help agency workers. Currently, under the WSIB's experience rating programs, an injury to a temporary help agency worker that occurs at a client employer's workplace is attributed to the temporary help agency – not the client employer.

This situation creates a potential incentive for client employers to "contract out" unsafe work to temporary help agencies. The proposed amendment would place the experience rating costs on the client employer and eliminate the incentive for contracting out unsafe work.

Finally, we know that construction is a key driver of Ontario's economy.

Our government recognizes this and as a result, we are investing $35 billion in infrastructure projects over the next three years to create and support 100,000 jobs each year – growing our economy and building stronger communities.

That's why we are strengthening the Labour Relations Act, the cornerstone of our fair and balanced labour relations system, by proposing to reduce the 'open-period' in the construction industry from three months to two.

This will allow our skilled workers to spend more time building the roads, bridges, schools and hospitals to grow our economy and ensure a prosperous Ontario for generations to come.

Speaker, the proposed Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act is about taking action to protect workers, especially the most vulnerable, and levelling the playing field for businesses that play by the rules.

We want to ensure employees are paid for the work they do, and that temporary help agency employees are provided the fairness they deserve.

We want to ensure that foreign workers have the protections they need, and deserve.

It has been said that "the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members."

We can, and must, work together to protect the most vulnerable in our province.

For a stronger Ontario.

As we are one Ontario.

Thank you.