TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - Dec. 4, 2013) - Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) President Sid Ryan welcomes long overdue protections for vulnerable workers, but cautions that new legislation introduced by the governing Liberals today does not go far enough to protect workers from exploitation or ensure their right to organize.
"Some of these changes we have been suggesting for many months or years. Lifting the $10,000 cap on the amount recoverable from employers for unpaid wages under the Employment Standards Act, eliminating the loophole that excludes unpaid apprentices and co-op students from health and safety protections, making client companies that hire through temp agencies responsible for their actions, and ensuring every worker has access to a poster outlining their rights - these are crucial common sense measures," said OFL President Sid Ryan. "We hope this is just the beginning and we will continue to encourage the government to put forward deeper and stronger protections for vulnerable workers in the coming months."
The introduction of this legislation follows on the heels of an OFL report that called on the provincial government to implement a Migrant Workers' Bill of Rights. Some of the recommendations made in that report are reflected in the new legislation.
"While expanding and accelerating the process for employers to bring more migrant workers to Canada, the federal government has been driving down wages and working conditions while failing to put in place measures to protect these workers from exploitation, forcing the province to step in," said Ryan. "Many migrant workers in Ontario face excessive or illegal recruitment fees, sub-standard housing, unsafe working conditions and unpaid wages. This can no longer be tolerated."
The proposed expansion to all migrant workers of the Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act, which currently prohibits recruiters and employers from charging or passing on recruitment fees to live-in caregivers, will provide minimal protections from these abuses. However, the effectiveness of this legislation will be limited because it relies on employee complaints rather than being driven by proactive enforcement.
"Migrant workers endure an incredible power imbalance in the face of their employers and are often gendered and racialized workers," said Irwin Nanda, Executive Vice-President of the OFL. "To address the root of this exploitation, the province must also push the federal government to scale back the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and return to a robust national policy of permanent immigration that provides migrant workers with opportunities for permanent residency."
The OFL recommendations for protecting migrant workers would have seen the government establish a more comprehensive public registry and licensing system of all employers and recruiters to provide better oversight and accountability, similar to those in place in Manitoba. It would also include joint liability for employers and recruiters, and penalties for those that fail to comply with the legislation.
While the legislative proposals announced by the provincial government offer minimal protections for vulnerable workers, they do little to ensure that workers have the right to organize.
"The best route for workers out of poverty and into jobs that provide decent wages and benefits and a certain degree of stability is to join a union," said Nanda. "We will continue to work towards implementing measures such as successor rights in the contract sector and other measures included in Bill 129, Labour Relations Amendment Act (Employee Rights) to ensure that workers can organize collectively to improve their position in the workplace without fear of employer reprisal or intimidation."
The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) represents 54 unions and one million workers in Ontario. For information, visit www.OFL.ca and follow the OFL on Facebook and Twitter: @OFLabour and follow OFL President Sid Ryan at @SidRyan_OFL