Deputation Bill 18, the Stronger Workplaces for Stronger Economy Act Social Planning Toronto 30 October 2014

Good afternoon, Chair and members of the Committee. My name is John Campey, Executive Director of Social Planning Toronto, a non-profit organization engaged in independent social planning, community research and policy analysis. I am also speaking on behalf of the Social Planning Network of Ontario, representing the fifteen Social Planning Councils from across the Province of Ontario.

As an organization committed to social and economic justice and equity, we would like to endorse the Worker’s Action Centre’s submission on Bill 18, the Strong Workplaces for Stronger Economy Act. We are very pleased that you have brought to the table the need for better protections for workers. We strongly support the several amendments to the Bill proposed by the Workers’ Action Centre, and would like to talk specifically about two of them.

The rise of precarious, temporary employment is a disturbing trend in Ontario’s labour market. Precarious jobs are often unstable, low-paid, involve poor working conditions, and provide no health benefits, sick pay or pensions. Over 500,000 people in Ontario have temporary jobs, many of which are provided through temporary help agencies. Precarious employment is even more prevalent in the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton. According to the Poverty and Employment Precarity in Southern Ontario (PEPSO) report, there has been a 50% increase in precarious employment in the GTA and Hamilton area over the past few years . A large number of these jobs are held by racialized people, newcomers, women and young people, who struggle with poverty and often work two or three jobs to pay their bills and support their families. On average, a worker hired through a temporary agency earns 40% less than a regular employee who does the same job. Temporary agency workers continue to be deprived of basic employment rights, such as holiday pay, sick days and vacations. Many have to fight for their unpaid wages and go back and forth betweem temp agencies and client companies to attempt recover their unpaid wages.

Precarious employment has negative effects on many workers’ lives. The PEPSO report suggests that many precarious workers report anxiety, problems paying for basic needs, finding child care and being engaged in civic activities. We believe that laws to better protect these workers can promote social and economic justice and equity for all residents of our province.

Bill 18 is a positive step towards providing better protections for temp agency workers; however, we believe that more needs to be done to ensure fairness at workplaces. The Bill introduces joint liability between temporary help agencies and their client companies, making both responsible for unpaid regular wages and unpaid overtime under the Employment Standards Act, 2000. This is an important step as it recognizes the fact that many temp workers face unpaid wages, and secondly, it holds responsible not only the temp agency but also client companies who, in fact, determine job duties, train workers, supervise them and set hours of work. Joint liability can also provide an incentive for client companies to comply with employment standards for workers.

While we believe that introduction of joint liability can ensure better protections for temp agency workers and fairness at workplaces, we support Workers’ Action Centre’s proposed amendment that joint liability should extend beyond unpaid wages and overtime pay to include all employment standards rights, including public holidays pay. A Ministry of Labour inspection blitz of temporary help agencies discovered in 2013 that 70% of employers had monetary violations, the most common violation having been unpaid public holiday pay. We believe that unless joint liability is extended to all employment standards, temporary workers will continue to face violations of their rights.

Currently, many workers are unable to file complaints to recover their unpaid wages within a six-month claims period. We are glad that Bill 18 extends the claims period from 6 months to two years and removes the $10,000 limit on the amount of unpaid wages workers are allowed to claim. However, we echo the concern of Workers’ Action Centre that this legislation, if passed, will not be implemented until after a 6-month grace period for employers. Agencies and employers continue to take advantage of the limited cap on the amount of unpaid wages and the short claims period. This must be stopped and we urge you to enforce the legislation immediately after it is passed.

Employment plays an important role in poverty reduction, and better employment standards and protections ensure fairness at workplaces. While we appreciate the re-introduction of Bill 18 to improve employment standards and protections, we support the recommendations of Workers’ Action Centre to extend joint liability of temp agencies and client companies to all employment standards and to implement changes in unpaid wage claims immediately after the Bill becomes law. Many thanks for the opportunity to speak to you today.

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