Educate employers on responsibilities to workers

Posted on January 21, 2016 in Debates – Opinion/Editorials – Ontario’s Ministry of Labour needs to focus on a two-pronged approach: rout out companies that underpay workers and educate employers.
Jan 20 2016.   Editorial

It’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Each time Ontario’s Ministry of Labour conducts an inspection blitz focusing on precarious employment, it finds about three-quarters of workplaces in violation of the Employment Standards Act.

The most recent blitz targeted 304 workplaces focusing on sectors such as cleaning, security services and recreation facilities. As the Star’s Sara Mojtehedzadeh reports, it found that 238 were breaking the law with shoddy record-keeping, excess hours of work and failure to pay overtime wages. These are not just fly-by-night operations. They include such household names as Goodlife Fitness, G4S Security and Bowlerama.

Discouragingly, the findings echo two earlier inspections of temporary work agencies in 2015 and 2013 that found three-quarters of those audited had broken regulations in the employment act. The violations included not paying employees overtime, public holiday or vacation pay – or even their basic wages.

The pattern is clear and the findings are unacceptable. It’s clear the labour ministry needs to increase inspections to rout out lawbreakers, and regain lost wages and rights for workers. Sensibly, Labour Minister Kevin Flynn promises to “proactively identify businesses who do not play by the rules.”

But there may be something else at play here. And that is a lack of knowledge of what the Employment Standards Act requires. Indeed, several employers told the Star they had no idea they were violating the act.

While not knowing the law is no excuse for breaking it, the findings of the inspection blitzes make it clear the labour ministry needs to increase efforts to reach out to employers to educate them on the act’s regulations to better protect vulnerable workers.

To be fair, the ministry has created an informative website called “Your Guide to the Employment Standards Act, 2000.” It lists employers’ responsibilities from record-keeping to minimum wages and overtime and vacation pay in no-nonsense language. Indeed, it also includes an Education, Outreach and Partnership initiative.

Still, something is going awry. Either three-quarters of companies that provide precarious employment are knowingly breaking the law, or they are unaware of all the regulations. In the meantime, the most vulnerable workers — and those in precarious employment make up 52 per cent of workers in the GTA and Hamilton region — are paying a price.

The labour ministry should continue with its important inspection blitzes. But it should also find new ways to make sure employers are aware of their responsibilities to their employees in order to prevent more violations.

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