‘Half-baked’ Bill 27 won’t protect migrant workers from exploitative recruiters, say advocates

Valid criticism of low level fines and other issues related to recruiting agencies:

Ontario’s proposed changes to employment law would not protect vulnerable migrant workers from unscrupulous recruiters and employers, and need more teeth to work for the workers, say advocates.

Professional recruiters play a key role in the transnational recruitment of migrant workers for employment in Ontario’s agricultural sector, fisheries, food supply, transportation, tourism, as well as in-home personal care and support services.

Last month, Labour Minister Monte McNaughton introduced Bill 27. The omnibus legislation includes policy changes meant to remove barriers for immigrants to get licensed in a regulated profession; require temporary help agencies to be licensed; and compel businesses to let delivery drivers use their washrooms, among other things.

Dubbed the Working for Workers Act, the bill, currently under review by a provincial standing committee, would also require recruiters to be licensed in a public registry and be responsible for repaying workers any illegal fees charged here or abroad.

The consequence of non-compliance for the recruiter would be the revocation of their licence and a possible fine under $300 for a first offence, critics point out.

Although employers would be required to use licensed recruiters, they would only face a fine of $250 for using someone who’s not registered.

Advocates for migrants have been calling for the licensing of recruiters and recruitment agencies since 2008, but said the enforcement tools in the proposed legislation are inadequate because the fines for infractions are way too low to be deterrents.

Recruiters, agencies and consultants use the promise of jobs that don’t exist and work conditions that don’t exist to lure workers to come to Canada,” said Syed Hussan, executive director of the Migrant Workers’ Alliance for Change. “Once they’re here, they’re so indebted they’re unable to protect themselves and defend themselves.

“This has been a well-documented issue. Now, the rest of the country has moved forward. Ontario has frankly not created any effective legislation to protect migrant workers from exploitative recruiters. As the bill stands, this will simply be window dressing, half-baked.”

According to Hussan, six provinces — Alberta, Quebec, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nova Scotia — have already adopted mandatory licensing programs, requiring a security deposit between $5,000 and $25,000 from recruiters; most also have a registry for employers who hire migrant workers. Fines for employers for using an unlicensed recruiter can go up to $50,000 in Manitoba. A registry would enable proactive inspections.

Deena Ladd of the Workers’ Action Centre said Ontario must follow the other jurisdictions to hold employers equally responsible to make sure they use recruiters that do not charge illegal fees.

“This would not compel an employer to use a licensed recruiter if all you are required is a $250 fine,” she said. “It’s really the employers who use the recruitment agencies in the first place that drive this whole business model. It is their demand for migrant workers that creates a supply chain.

“We need to make sure employers are jointly and severally liable so they’re responsible when they use these recruitment agencies.”

Advocates are asking for a minimum fine of $15,000 against employers who fail to use a licensed agency, as well as a security bond of no less than $25,000 against licensed recruiters.

Ladd said a mandatory registry of employers who hire migrant workers is crucial.

“In our experience, we see employers who violate employment standards and continue to hire workers, only to repeat the violations, such as unpaid hours of work, overtime and illegal deductions,” said Ladd.

“Mandatory employer registration would enable the Ministry of Labour to conduct effective, targeted, proactive inspections as it will have all the information they need to do so.”

Also under this bill, Hussan said the onus is on the migrant workers to prove they have paid a recruitment fee or have been exploited. But recruiters have become so savvy that they now leave little paper trail.

“We need to reverse the onus so that workers don’t have to prove that they are being charged illegal fees, but employers and recruiters must prove that the charging doesn’t happen,” he said.

Source: ‘Half-baked’ Bill 27 won’t protect migrant workers from exploitative recruiters, say advocates