Ontario Introducing Highest Fines in Canada for Withholding Worker Passports
Businesses and people who take advantage of vulnerable workers could face millions in fines
March 20, 2023
Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development
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TORONTO — Today, the Ontario government is introducing the Working for Workers Act, 2023, which would, if passed, continue to lead the country in providing ground-breaking protections for workers. Announced today as part of the legislation are changes that would strengthen protections for vulnerable and migrant workers by establishing the highest maximum fines in Canada for businesses and people who are convicted of withholding a foreign national’s passport or work permit. Offenders could face a $100,000 to $200,000 penalty for every worker whose rights are violated.
“Anyone who preys on vulnerable members in our community has no place in our society,” said Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development. “If you think you’re going to deny someone’s basic human rights by withholding their passport, we’re going to hit your pocketbook, and you will be behind bars for a long time. We will continue to use every tool in our toolbox to ensure Ontario is a province where hard work pays off and big dreams come true.”
Ministry officers have the power to levy penalties for each passport or work permit a business or person withholds. Legislation introduced today would allow for these penalties to be increased, meaning these bad actors could quickly face millions in fines for their illegal actions. In addition to the per-passport penalties, individuals convicted of withholding passports would be liable to either a fine of up to $500,000, up to 12 months imprisonment, or both. Corporations convicted would be liable to a fine of up to $1 million.
The government is also proposing amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), if passed, would increase the maximum fine for corporations convicted of an offence under the OHSA from $1.5 million to $2 million. This would give Ontario the highest maximum corporate fine under workplace health and safety legislation in Canada. Last spring, the government raised fines for individuals to a maximum of $500,000 and up to a maximum of $1,500,000 for corporate directors.
Also included in Working for Workers 3 are proposed changes to protect remote workers during mass terminations and expanding reasons reservists can take military leave. The government is also proposing amendments to require women’s-only washrooms on construction sites and to expand cancer coverage for firefighters.
These proposed changes expand the ground-breaking changes in the Working for Workers Acts, 2021 and 2022, which are already helping millions of people in Ontario.
- In November 2021, the ministry established a new unit to detect potential labour trafficking activity. This unit’s work has led to criminal human trafficking charges, occupational health and safety and employment standards prosecutions, orders and other compliance activities.
- In the first year of operation, the unit received over 300 tips, initiated investigations and helped 3,500 workers recover over $400,000 in wages.
- The proposed legislative amendments to the Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act (EPFNA) and the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), if passed, would come into force upon Royal Assent.
- Individuals who are aware of labour trafficking or have been subject to labour trafficking, can contact the ministry at firstname.lastname@example.org
“FCJ Refugee Centre has worked with the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development to support victims and survivors of labour exploitation. We know labour trafficking is happening in Canada and here in Ontario, so we are pleased to see the government address this issue. We support some of the progress the government has made in last few years such as the work of the Divisional Intelligence Unit and the newly announced increased consequences against employers and recruiters who exploit their most vulnerable workers. While this will hold employers accountable, there is still much more progress to be made. This is only the beginning. We need to see changes in policies on a federal and provincial level that will protect workers and their rights and break down the barriers to equity amongst all workers in Canada.”
– Loly Rico
Executive Director, FCJ Refugee Centre
“The Association of Canadian Search, Employment and Staffing Services, “ACSESS”, applauds Minister McNaughton’s efforts to crack down on unethical, illegal operators in an effort to continuously raise the bar. ACSESS has long supported and advocated for initiatives to ensure that all temporary help agencies (THAs) comply with their legal obligations to ensure a fairer industry for THAs, their clients and assignment employees alike. We applaud the government for taking a bold approach that includes enforcement initiatives against THA’s that operate illegally and the client companies that use them.”
– Mary McIninch
Executive Director, Government Relations of the Association of Canadian Search, Employment and Staffing Services
“The Working for Workers Act, 2023 provides a strong message to those who exploit migrant workers that they will be held accountable for their actions. Combined with the new powers given to ministry officers to levy penalties of $100,000 to $200,000 for each passport or work permit a business or person withholds, the Act provides police with stronger tools to take action. The government is giving migrant workers back their human right to have control over their own documents including their passports. As a human right’s advocate, I stand in solidarity with Minister McNaughton.”
– Megan Walker
Retired Executive Director, London Abused Women’s Centre
“York Regional Police and the investigators in our Human Trafficking Section welcome this legislation, which will provide us with another tool to fight labour trafficking and the exploitation of vulnerable people in our community. This new law will allow our officers to hold individuals and companies accountable for their actions.”
– Jim MacSween
York Regional Police Chief
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