Ontario proposes sweeping legislation to protect vulnerable workers

On December 4, 2013, the Ontario government introduced Bill 146, referred to as the Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act, 2013.  Bill 146 is omnibus legislation that will, if passed, amend a number of employment-related statutes, including the Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act (Live-In Caregivers and Others), 2009, the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (“ESA”), the Labour Relations Act, 1995, the Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”) and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997.   

Bill 146 proposes amendments to the Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act (Live-in Caregivers and Others), 2009, including amendments to extend its application to all foreign nationals employed, or attempting to find employment in Ontario.   The Ministry of Labour states that these amendments will prohibit employers from charging fees for the recruitment and placement of such workers, unless such fees are prescribed by regulation, and prohibit the withholding of personal documents such as passports.

Bill 146 includes the following amendments to the ESA: 

  • Extends the six and 12 month time limits on the recovery of wages to two years.
  • Removes the $10,000 cap on the recovery of unpaid wages owed through a Ministry of Labour order.
  • Requires employers to provide each employee with a copy of the most recent poster published by the Ministry of Labour containing information about rights under the ESA, and to provide material in available translations prepared by the Ministry of Labour if requested.
  • Permits an employment standards officer to require any employer to examine its own records and practices to determine whether it is in compliance with the requirements of the ESA.

Other amendments to the ESA target temporary help agencies.  Notably, the amendments make temporary help agencies and their clients jointly and severally liable for unpaid wages and unpaid overtime owing to assignment employees.  The effect is that if the agency does not pay its employee then the assignment employer will be liable to pay the employee.  Proposed amendments to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act would require the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board to assign workplace injury costs to temporary help agency clients, as opposed to the agency itself.

Proposed Bill 146 also extends the application of the OHSA to unpaid workers, such as co-op students and interns, by expanding the OHSA definition of “worker”.

Finally, Bill 146 contains amendments to the Labour Relations Act specific to the construction industry.  These proposed amendments would reduce the “Open Period” for certification and decertification of a trade union (also called the “Raiding Period”) from 90 days to 60 days.

In Our View

Bill 146 has just been introduced and received first reading. There may be changes to this proposed legislation before it becomes law.  Employers should nonetheless familiarize themselves with the new obligations that Bill 146 proposes to add to the employment law regime, particularly with respect to temporary help agencies and foreign national workers.

For further information, please contact Kecia Podetz at (613) 940-2752.

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