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Canada: New Ontario employment laws in effect for temporary and foreign workers

November 23, 2015

Effective Nov. 20, the Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act, 2014 (Bill 18) became law, amending the Employment Standard Act of 2000. Ontario workers hired through a temporary help agency may now recover unpaid wages from both the agency and the agency’s client-business in cases where the agency has not paid the wages.

If a temporary help agency fails to pay an assignment employee some or all of his or her wages, the agency and its client are now liable for the entire amount of the unpaid wages both together and individually. Bill 18 also provides that an assignment employee is no longer required to wait until proceedings against the temporary help agency are exhausted before proceeding against the staffing buyer.

Both the temporary help agency and its clients must now keep records of the hours and the days each assignment employee works. The records must be kept for three years.

The Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act, 2009 was also extended Friday to apply to all foreign nationals who are employed or seeking employment in Ontario through an immigration or foreign temporary employee program. Originally, the Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act applied only to foreign live-in caregivers, their employers and recruiters.

Under the new change, employment recruiters cannot directly or indirectly charge workers fees for goods, benefits, or services such as recruitment and placement costs. Additionally, employment recruiters and employers are not allowed to take or keep property such as passports or work permits belonging to foreign nationals.

The Ministry of Labour reports Ontario has the largest temporary help agency sector in Canada with approximately 100,000 temporary foreign workers.

“Our government is committed to ensuring that all employees are treated fairly in the workplace and receive the entitlements they’re due,” said Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn. “Now companies that use temporary help agency employees will also be responsible if the agency fails to pay those employees’ wages. This will not only help those who work through temporary help agencies but will help level the playing field for employers who follow the rules.”

The Association of Canadian Search, Employment and Staffing Services (ACSESS) was a key stakeholder during the course of Bill 18 discussions.

“ACSESS supports, promotes, and makes it a condition of membership that all members uphold their obligations to workers in every aspect; the most fundamental of obligations is the payment of wages,” Mary McIninch, ACSESS executive director, government relations, said in a statement. “The legislation will help strengthen the industry over the long-term because clients may become more discerning in their selection of suppliers.”

She said clients will avoid selecting “fly by night” operators that offer unrealistically low rates because the client will want to avoid paying the supplier and then be forced to pay the workers if their supplier fails to do so. 

“The downside is that newer or smaller staffing companies may find it more difficult to win contracts,” McIninch said. “Financial viability should always be a criteria for the selection of a supplier.   Joint liability may increase a customer's emphasis on financial viability and make it difficult for new or small legitimate staffing companies to get a foothold and grow.”

Bill 18 is available online.

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