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Bill offers new protections for temporary workers in Ontario

Andrew Seale
The new bill would better protect workers who are at a job for longer than six months. (Getty)

NDP deputy leader and Ontario MPP Jagmeet Singh has presented a Private Member’s Motion to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario calling for stronger protections for temporary job agency workers.

“Far too many workers in Ontario are unable to find good quality, permanent employment, and many end up in precarious work through temporary job agencies,” said Singh. Over 700,000 Ontarians find work through temp agencies, some of which are known to take up to 50 per cent of temp workers salaries for themselves. “We must commit to protecting workers employed through these agencies, and ensure that they are receiving equal pay for equal work.”

Singh’s proposal looks to ensure temp employees are paid the equivalent of their colleagues, eliminate the fees charged by staffing agencies and ban “temporary” assignments that turn into long-term gigs.

The motion responds to the growing use of temp agencies by employers looking for ways to keep their labour costs down, says Stuart Rudner, founding partner of employment focused law firm Rudner MacDonald LLP.

“You see this evolution where it used to be you graduated from school, you’d get a job and work your way up through the ranks in the company and eventually retired,” says Rudner. “Now of course we know that doesn’t happen very often (so) we’re seeing more contract work, part-time work, fixed-term contracts or temp agencies.”

Rudner notes that Ontario introduced stronger protections for temporary workers under amendments to the Employment Standards Act in 2014, adding greater clarity to temp workers rights and making both companies and temp agencies responsible for addressing grievances surrounding wages, including overtime, holiday and premium pay.

Singh’s motion expands on those rights including calling on employers to offer the same benefits to temp workers as they would to a full-time employee doing the same job. Rudner points out that there’s a general misconception that if you’re part-time, contract or temp, you’re not eligible for benefits but he calls it “completely untrue” saying that there’s no legal entitlement to benefits; they’re a part of the salary negotiation process open to everybody.

Unfortunately for temp workers, they’re often paid a fixed hours rate and at a disadvantage when it comes to negotiating any extras given the nature of the industry.

Under the current legislation, it’s illegal to charge client companies a fee to hire a temp after six months. But critics have said the new proposal, which looks to eliminate fees within the first six months as well, could act as a disincentive to creating permanent positions, which Rudner admits could “eliminate some of the reasons employers use temp agencies.”

The conversation surrounding what some perceive as the “predatory practices” of the temp agency landscape extends beyond Singh. In March, Brantford City Council banned the use of temp agencies to hire city workers.

“There cannot be any role for the kind of exploitation that’s going on,” Councillor Brian Van Tilborg, who introduced the motion, told the Toronto Star. “We have a disproportionate amount of temp agencies in our city, and it’s really eroding the quality of life because people get caught in that cycle.”

While the motion was only opened for debate last week, Rudner agrees the issue is timely.

“There is this widespread review of employment laws in Ontario going on right now… I’m not sure if this specific issue came up in that discussion but it probably will now,” he says. “If the Employment Standards Act is going to be revised, it’s quite possible they will look at this – there’s no reason why it couldn’t go ahead.”