The Ontario government on Oct. 25 introduced the Working for Workers Act, 2021, legislation that proposes a group of labor-friendly policies. It includes a requirement that temporary help agencies and recruiters be licensed and establishes penalties for unlicensed operators or those who charge workers illegal fees — as well as the buyer companies that use them.

Licenses could be required as early as 2024 if the legislation is approved.

Temporary staffing firms would be vetted prior to being issued a license and license applicants would need to provide an irrevocable letter of credit that could be used to repay owed wages to workers. The government is also proposing to hire a team of officers to crack down on temporary staffing firms and recruiters who are exploiting or trafficking domestic and foreign workers.

If passed, the legislation would make significant amendments to the Employment Standards Act, 2000. According to the Association of Canadian Search, Employment and Staffing Services, the amendments also specify that clients, employers, or prospective employers cannot knowingly engage or use the services of a temporary help agency or recruiter unless the agency or recruiter is licensed. In addition, clients of temporary help agencies and recruiters would be required to keep specific information related to assignment and prospective employees and employers.

Labour Minister Monte McNaughton said the legislation would be the toughest of its kind in Canada if passed.

“From day one, my ministry has worked to ensure any employer who abuses the rights of their workers — no matter their passport — will quickly find our officers at their front door,” McNaughton said. “Today’s announcement sends a clear message to anyone who still thinks they can break the rules that time is up.

“We are glad to see government take this important step to protect workers and to support businesses striving to provide safe and positive work experiences,” said James Henry, VP, hospitality, for Blue Mountain Resort. “Having this legislation in place will help ensure we engage with licensed agencies that align with our standard of employee care.”

ACSESS also supports the legislation and will help consult with the government on it.

“The context of the legislation is to create more of a level playing field and a vetting mechanism for the regulation of the staffing industry,” Jeff Nugent told SIA. Nugent is a member of ACSESS’ board of directors and chair of its education and certification committee.

Most enterprise buyers want to “do the right thing” in terms of creating a safe workplace for their contingent workers as well be compliant with tax laws, employment standards, etc. within the jurisdiction, according to Nugent. “This legislation is a licensing mechanism to help educate and vet agencies and/or placement agencies that are working within Ontario,” he said. It also provides an enforcement mechanism to take away a firm’s license to operate within the jurisdiction if it is not compliant with legislation, worker compensation rules or safety requirements in the workplaces its contingents are placed in.

“ACSESS strongly endorses the establishment of a licensing regime ensuring that all temporary help agencies comply with their legal obligations,” said Mary McIninch, executive director, government relations at ACSESS. “This initiative creates a level playing field and results in a fairer industry for [temporary staffing firms], their clients and assignment employees alike. We applaud the government for taking a bold approach that includes enforcement initiatives against for [temporary staffing firms] that operate illegally and the client companies that use them.”