Ontario labour minister says new temp agency laws will end working conditions he describes as akin to ‘modern-day slavery’

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In an effort to improve accountability and enforcement in a region known for widespread violations, temporary aid agencies and recruiters will soon be required to be licensed and operate by the province.

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Labor Minister Monte McNaughton said the new labor law, expected to be announced on Monday, if passed, would give workers “unprecedented safety and security” – signaling to law-breaking agencies that their “time is up.” Has gone.”

In an interview with the Star, McNaughton called the abuse in this area “totally unacceptable.”

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“There is no other way than modern-day slavery to describe what is happening in Ontario,” he said. “It’s unacceptable and it’s ending now.”

Under the proposed new licensing regime, agencies and recruiters will be provincially scrutinized and will be required to provide security payments in the form of bonds. Where wages are evaded or illegal recruitment fees are levied, that bond can be used to recover workers’ money.

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Over the past year, ministry inspections of temp agencies have identified $3.3 million in dues owed to workers. New reform plans include stricter penalties for rule breakers and a special task force to identify exploitation, resulting in what McNaughton called “Canada’s most comprehensive system to ensure that agencies and recruiters Playing by the rules.”

“I’m going to make sure we have the highest fines in the country,” he said. “We are immediately grounding a dedicated team of inspectors within the next few weeks.”

In a round of consultations on temporary agencies launched late last year, a trifecta of labor rights organizations — Parkdale Community Legal Services, Workers Action Center and Migrant Workers Alliance for Change — said basic measures to protect against wage theft were The law must be strengthened, illegal recruitment fees and security breaches. One of the recommendations was the licensing system, echoing existing arrangements in Western Canada, Quebec and Nova Scotia.

The groups called on officials to hold employers, employers and agencies jointly accountable for all workplace standards, including injuries, that Monday’s proposed reforms do not address.

However, the new law would subject both unlicensed recruiters and their client companies to potential penalties, including agencies that work overseas when bringing foreign workers to Canada.

Advocates have long called for the government to reduce employers’ incentives to use temporary agency workers, who are often paid less than workers directly hired, typically do not receive benefits and can be easily terminated.

To that end, the previous Liberal government made several reforms in the temporary agency sector, including mandating equal pay for temporary and permanent employees doing similar work.

The Ford government later reversed the measure, with fixed minimum wage increases and sick day rights for all workers.

McNaughton told the Star that his government is “coming forward with other changes soon to make sure we’re protecting all workers in Ontario and making sure they have more take-home pay.” Is.”

But Monday’s announcement is intended to lift the “veil of secrecy” in the temporary agency sector, he said.

“My goal here is to shed light on what’s going on out there.”

a star Investigation has previously found that the number of temporary aid agencies in Ontario has steadily increased over the past decade, and that agency employees in blue-collar jobs are twice as likely to be injured on the job as their directly hired counterparts.

But a STAR analysis of thousands of temporary agency addresses found that GTA had little more than many PO boxes—or sometimes even empty plots—making enforcement action difficult.

McNaughton said the issue has been a priority since taking over the leadership of the ministry in 2019, the same year officials evacuated more than 60 migrant workers from an alleged labor trafficking ring near Simcoe County. The recruiters were accused of collecting illegal fees from the workers and controlling their movement.

The labor minister said the pandemic has only heightened the urgency of reform, with uncertain work arrangements often leading to workplace outbreaks. Last year, Rogelio Muoz Santos died of COVID-19 after being recruited from Mexico by an agency to work on an Ontario farm.

“The pandemic has exposed some of the things that are happening in Ontario,” he said. “No one should sleep on a straw mattress and no one’s passport should be locked.”

There are currently more than 2,250 temporary agencies operating in Ontario and an estimated 128,000 employees are hired through them, according to Workplace Safety and Insurance Board data.

When asked how the province intends to deal with employers who turn to temp agencies to reduce costs and liabilities, McNaughton said he believes labor shortages are causing “a lot of Changes will come.”

“Businesses really have to do things differently. They have to pay their employees more. They have to provide benefits, look at things like pensions and make sure they have a safe work environment.”

“We are moving forward with a number of other initiatives over the next few weeks to rebalance those scales to protect workers,” he said.

“There are large corporations that have done well during this pandemic, and they need to make sure they are taking care of their employees.”

Sarah Moztehedzadeh is a Toronto-based reporter who covers work and money for Star. Follow him on Twitter: @saramojtehedz



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