The Law Commission of Ontario (LCO) calls on the Ontario government to take action to increase protection for Ontario workers in their report on Vulnerable Workers and Precarious Work released today.
The report confirms the reality of precarious work that WAC members and workers across Ontario face everyday – work today has become less secure, lower paid, has fewer benefits, if any, and provides little protection against workplace abuses and injury. The report also demonstrates that it is women, immigrants and racialized workers that are most in precarious work. Read WAC member Gilma’s story for a snapshot of conditions facing many Ontario workers.
The LCO calls on the Ontario government to strengthen employment standards enforcement and to increase protection for migrant workers, echoing many of WAC’s demands to address widespread employment standards violations and wage theft. The LCO report illustrates the critical role of employment standards as setting a basic floor of minimum standards for all workers.
Some of the key recommendations include:
- Substantially increase proactive enforcement of both employment standards and health and safety, especially in sectors that are at high risk for violations;
- Conduct expanded investigations of workplaces when violations are detected;
- Increase the monetary cap for workers trying to recover unpaid wages to $25,000;
- Provide a process for third party complaints to trigger inspections of workplaces to protect workers;
- Expand protection for migrant workers against reprisal and repatriation;
- Extend protection against recruitment fees to all migrant workers;
- Review exemptions to the Employment Standards Act (ESA) that allow lower standards in some types of work;
- Equal pay for workers in equivalent positions (e.g., part time and full time);
- Action by the Ministry of Labour to reduce mis-classification of employees as self-employed (which employers do to reduce wages and entitlements).
As the Ontario Government firms up its budget priorities for the upcoming year, it is clear from the LCO report the need for more substantial resources for enforcement – and in particular proactive and extended investigations into workplace abuse.
While the report makes many important recommendations, there are key issues facing precarious workers that are not addressed. For example, ensuring that companies that engage subcontractors should be jointly liable for unpaid wages and that existing recruitment laws covering live-in caregivers be strengthened. The report makes many references to balancing the needs of employers and employees. However, in our experience a very real power imbalance exists between employees and employers in the workplace, particularly in today’s current economic climate.
The critical urgency to address the rise of precarious work and the growing exploitation faced by migrant workers cannot wait for voluntary compliance and leadership from employers to take the right action. In fact the documented evidence, increase in migrant worker abuse and expansion of precarious work shows government leadership and action is needed to address this growing crisis in the labour market.
We believe that there needs to be a long-term vision of legislative change and innovative policy solutions that will address the systemic causes of precarious work. WAC will continue to work with workers and our many allies across the province to advocate for these solutions.