'Time's up': Ontario cracks down on worker exploitation

The law will penalise companies using unlicenced operators, making them repay workers for any illegal fees charged

'Time's up': Ontario cracks down on worker exploitation

The Ontario government has announced plans to require licences on temporary help agencies (THA) and recruiters in a bid to crackdown on exploitation and trafficking among domestic and foreign workers. The scheme is part of a new legislation the provincial government seeks to introduce. Under the proposal, THAs and recruiters would be assessed first before being granted a licence to operate.

Unlicenced agencies and recruiters found operating will face penalties, according to the local government. The legislation will also penalise companies or businesses using unlicenced operators, making them repay workers for any illegal fees charged.

"This legislation would, if passed, be the toughest of its kind in Canada – ensuring every worker in Ontario has unprecedented protection today and, in the years to come," said Monte McNaughton, minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development.

CBC first reported about the legislation, and McNaughton told them that the licencing requirement would be enforced in 2023. As of October 1, inspections by the ministry on THA use on several sectors revealed that over $3.3 million was owed to employees and about half has been recovered. The ministry will form a team to recover the said unpaid wages.

Read more: How will temporary foreign worker overhaul affect HR?

Authorities also found that some THAs failed to comply during the 2020-21 campaign in areas such as minimum wage, record keeping, misclassification, hours of work, public holiday pay, overtime pay, and vacation pay. In response, the government is planning to form another dedicated squad to crackdown on THAs and recruiters who are exploiting and trafficking domestic and foreign workers.

"Today's announcement sends a clear message to anyone who still thinks they can break the rules that time is up," warned McNaughton.

The Association of Canadian Search, Employment and Staffing Services (ACSESS) welcomed the initiative from the government and said it "strongly endorses" the licensing scheme.

"This initiative creates a level playing field and results in a fairer industry for THAs, their clients and assignment employees alike,” added Mary McIninch, executive director of ACSESS Government Relations. We applaud the government for taking a bold approach that includes enforcement initiatives against THAs that operate illegally and the client companies that use them.”

As of July 2020, there were 2,257 THAs operating in Ontario, according to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.

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