Fifteen months ago, the McGuinty government beefed up provincial employment standards, guaranteeing temp workers the right to holiday, severance and termination pay. The government also pledged to spend $10 million hiring new enforcement officers to protect precarious workers.Of course, it's probably true enough that employers will be perfectly happy with a system where workers aren't able to effectively assert their legal rights.
Now the temporary workers feel as if their victory is being snatched away, as the government proposes to “modernize” the Employment Standards Act. Under new rules, workers would be required to confront their boss about unpaid wages, overtime or other breaches of the law before filing a claim with the labor ministry.
“This is like asking someone who's had their purse stolen to go and confront the thief before they're allowed to make a complaint with the police,” said Sonia Singh, an organizer at the Workers' Action Centre, which speaks for wage earners without union protection or economic clout.
If Fonseca genuinely believes an employer who responds readily to a call from an employment standards officer would treat a complaint from low-ranking employee with equal dispatch, he needs to visit a few of the sites where newcomers, low-income women and other vulnerable Ontarians work.
Fonseca is right that the 185-page bill has a provision allowing certain claimants to go straight to an employment standards officer; but very few temp workers know that. Even with if they did, they couldn't be sure they would qualify.
British Columbia passed similar legislation eight years ago. Thousands of exploited workers simply stopped filing claims.
But it takes a severely warped worldview to value the interest of employers in escaping the law over the ability of workers to have it enforced. And the Ontario example offers an important reminder that the Libs are no less likely than the Cons to encourage that flawed tradeoff.