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Protecting Vulnerable Workers

  • Issued: August 20, 2014
  • Content last reviewed: August 2014
  • See also: Bulletin 

From September to November 2014, the Ontario government will conduct inspections to determine compliance with employment standards related to public holidays, vacation pay and other standards in sectors known to hire a high number of vulnerable and/or temporary foreign workers.

Ontario considers vulnerable workers to be those who work in sectors where they may be at greater risk of having their rights violated, and who may lack the ability or resources to understand their rights. Vulnerable workers may include temporary foreign workers, young workers, newcomers to Canada, and those whose first language is neither English nor French.

The employment standards blitz is part of the province’s continued commitment to ensuring all Ontarians are treated fairly. The goal of these proactive inspections is to ensure compliance with the Employment Standards Act (ESA) and its regulations, and to educate employers about their obligations.

From May to August 2013, the province conducted an employment standards blitz of sectors that hire vulnerable workers. During that blitz, inspectors focused on workplaces such as salons, spas and nail salons; manufacturing and distribution; fast food outlets and other restaurants, construction sites and farming. The blitz results are available on the ministry’s website.

Proactive inspections

Employment standards officers proactively enforce the ESA and its regulations at workplaces across the province by conducting inspections in addition to thorough investigations of claims filed by employees who believe their rights under the ESA may have been contravened.

The proactive inspections of this blitz are part of a risk-based inspection strategy focusing on sectors:

  • That employ vulnerable workers
  • That have a prior history of employment standards contraventions
  • Where an increasing number of Ontarians are working

The officers also support workplaces by providing educational materials or information about employment standards to facilitate their compliance with the law.

During an inspection, an employment standards officer:

  • Educates the employer about their obligations under the ESA and its regulations;
  • Promotes self-reliance in the workplace; and
  • Takes enforcement action as needed for each workplace inspected.

If a contravention is found during an inspection, enforcement action may range from issuing compliance orders or orders to pay wages to issuing tickets or launching prosecutions under the Provincial Offences Act.

To learn more about Ontario’s employment standards proactive enforcement plan – and for more information on future proactive inspections – visit this website.

Reaching out to employers and vulnerable workers, including temporary foreign workers

As part of the government’s compliance strategy, the province provides employers and employees with resources to help them understand and comply with the ESA, such as:

Ontario also has multilingual phone lines for employment standards (1-800-531-5551) and occupational health and safety (1-877-202-0008). Callers can ask questions in dozens of languages. The province has also produced a wide array of translated materials – such as on overtime pay and farming operations – to help ensure workers understand their employment standards and workplace health and safety rights.

Ontario also actively seeks partnerships with industry associations, advocacy groups, immigrant settlement agencies and other ministries to promote awareness of workplace rights and responsibilities and the province’s available resources. In addition, Ontario government officials attend community events for new immigrants and temporary foreign workers to distribute information to help them understand their workplace rights and responsibilities.

In March 2014, Ontario conducted an advertising campaign to help vulnerable workers understand their workplace rights. The month-long “Know Your Workplace Rights” campaign featured advertisements in 27 languages and reached television, digital media and ethnic print publications. The campaign sought to raise awareness of workers’ rights to be treated fairly on the job, work in a safe and healthy workplace, and to be trained to handle workplace hazards.

In January 2011, the province launched a multilingual campaign to help employees and employers know their employment rights and responsibilities. This included:

  • Distributing thousands of posters in 23 languages to more than 70 organizations that deal with immigrant and vulnerable employee issues.
  • Advertisements placed in 59 ethnic news publications in Ontario, potentially reaching more than 1.1 million readers each run. The ads appeared in January and February of 2011.
  • Two online videos – dubbed in multiple languages – on complying with the ESA and how to file a claim and where to find more information.

The province revamped its claims-filing process by making it easier, faster and more accessible to Ontarians. Protection for foreign live-in caregivers has also been increased through the Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act, (Live-in Caregivers and Others), 2009.

On July 16, 2014, the province introduced The Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act, 2014, which supports Ontario's Poverty Reduction Strategy. If passed, the act would further increase protections for vulnerable workers.

Craig MacBride, Minister’s Office, 416-326-7709
Bruce Skeaff, Communications Branch, 416-326-7405
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