This report has mapped and drawn out an analysis of the limitations of current enforcement practices in ES and OHS. It has observed that where unions are present in the OHS structures for workers’ voice, the self-regulatory model works better than when they are lacking. It has reviewed potential reform options based on best practices in Canadian and other jurisdictions. The report demonstrates that effective enforcement of labour standards to protect workers in precarious employment and regulate precarious labour markets will require multi-pronged proactive, reactive, and voluntary strategies. However, such strategies must be embedded in a strong public/government enforcement model. This model should be centered on proactive enforcement. Even though proactive approaches should be prioritized, as they offer the most promise of the three approaches in upholding the normative principles of providing for decent work, social minima, universality, and fairness, there is value in certain reactive and voluntary measures. Reactive enforcement must ensure effective voice and support for workers to enforce their ES and protection from reprisals. Voluntary strategies that rely on non-state parties (i.e., employers, employer associations, workers, union and workers organizations), must ensure meaningful penalties for employers in non-compliance, on the one hand, and meaningful institutionalized involvement of workers and their organizations in furthering enforcement effectiveness, on the other hand. Under no circumstances are purely voluntary approaches recommended; they should only be used to augment otherwise strong and binding (ideally proactive) approaches.
A number of recommendations for changes in policy and practice flow from the survey of best practices contained in Section V, considered in light of the deficiencies characterizing the current regimes of ES and OHS enforcement in Ontario documented in preceding sections. The recommendations are divided into these categories of proactive, reactive, and voluntary approaches, noting the connections between these proposals and such principles where relevant.
A. ES Enforcement
1. Proactive Approaches
(i) Investigations & Inspections
1. Shift model of proactive enforcement to detecting violations and enforcement of ES for current employees in addition to the current focus of bringing employers into compliance. Routinely follow-up inspections with audits to ensure social minima are met through ongoing compliance.
2. Pursue strategic enforcement: Develop enforcement priorities and proactively target employers in high-violation industries and substandard practices. This involves mapping labour market practices (i.e., in the interest of the fairness principle, following up on previous cases of employer violations, new forms of work organization, sectors and industries comprised of concentrations of young workers, recent immigrants, women, racialized workers and other indicators of high rates of employer violations) to develop strategic plans for inspections and year by year targets. Develop benchmarking to evaluate strategic enforcement.
3. Support expanded investigations: Where an individual claim has confirmed violations, this should be used to trigger a broader investigation of other violations of the employer to protect current employees as is common in other jurisdictions. This recommendation too is consistent with the goal of fairness.
4. Pursue multi-agency investigations of employers and targeted sectors or practices: Initiate multi-agency investigations, possibly beginning with the introduction of a pilot project in which OHS and ES inspectorates engage in joint initiatives. Through such investigations, target practices such as misclassification of employees as ‘independent contractors’ and sub-contracting (in this process, a reverse onus in which a worker is presumed to be an employee unless the employer can provide proof to the contrary should be pursued). Such measures elevate the principles of both universality – that is, extending existing protections to the greatest number of workers – and fairness given the need to safeguard misclassified workers.
5. Introduce state-supported up the chain inspections and investigations: The MOL should consider making agreements with large firms engaging subcontractors that make them responsible for their subcontractors at lower levels of the chain, through the introduction of a regime of inspection supervised by the Ministry or a joint taskforce involving workers and their advocates, and simultaneously strengthen provisions for joint and several liability in the ESA. Here again, fairness, universality and providing for social minima for all workers in the chain of production are key objects.
6. Introduce a ‘positive duty’ for employers to prevent violations of the ESA. This recommendation is directed at achieving all four principles but elevates fairness in particular.
7. Enact a “hot cargo” provision to the ESA that would enable inspectors to impose an embargo on goods manufactured in violation of Act to ensure that, in fairness, penalties are felt by all parties to the chain of production.
(ii) Penalties & Settlements
8. Create an effective presumption of employer retaliation: In the interest of fairness, universality and establishing social minima, prevent employer retaliation by protecting workers who assert their rights by establishing a set fine for confirmed reprisals and providing interim reinstatement during claims investigation for workers that have been fired for seeking entitlements (i.e., establish a fast-track process for reinstatement and, in cases where reinstatement is not feasible, fast-track compensation of workers who have been penalized for attempting to enforce their rights, including all lost wages and costs of employer retaliation).
9. Shift the costs of ES enforcement on those that violate the ESA: Consistent with the notion of fairness, make employers pay the administrative costs of inspecting violations and enforcing ES where they are found in violation of the ESA.
10. Establish set fines (rather than giving ESO discretion) for confirmed violations (even in settlement): The current use of Part I tickets ($360 or less) does not provide adequate incentives to comply with the law. Rather, in pursuit of just social minima and fairness, fines doubling or tripling the amount owed, such as provided for in the New York State Wage Theft Protection Act, would provide a better incentive. Further, workers should receive interest on all unpaid wages owing.
11. Simplify and improve the transparency of prosecution policy: Each and every repeat violation or non-payment of orders should be prosecuted under Part III Provincial Offences so that employers are fined and ordered to pay unpaid wages in line with the notion of universality.
12. Encourage partnerships between the MOL and Community organizations to improve enforcement: The MOL should work with workers’ advocates and community organizations working directly with precariously employed workers to target companies and industries where wages go unpaid in order to promote both fairness and decent work. These organizations are most grounded in the experience of the workers in concern and thus it is only just to involve them in the administrative process as elsewhere.
13. Promote greater worker control over the labour standards through improved access to unionization and other workplace regulations fostering labour market security. The decline in union density, particularly in the private sector, coupled with the growth of precarious employment creates substantial challenges to workers voice and enforcing a floor of minimum standards. There is a need to not only redress continued de-collectivization and/or stagnation of labour relations in Ontario but to reverse this trend. In addition, introduce mechanisms of broader-based bargaining for self-employed and other workers in precarious paid employment who face challenges to unionizing and/or, at a minimum, to benefiting from collectively agreed social minima (see also Vosko and Noack, in this LCO working paper series).
2. Reactive Approaches
(i) Inspections & Investigations
14. Allow for third-party and anonymous complaints to initiate inspections in order to minimize threats to workers whose rights are being violated. Implementing this recommendation would mean that the most precariously employed workers, facing heightened threats of reprisal, are not obliged to take on their employers in fairness to their situation and the goal of securing social minima.
15. Streamline the complaints process and reduce the complaints backlog by providing, as a first step in the claims process, person-to-person assistance to workers to prepare their claim so that investigators can expeditiously adjudicate the matter. Administratively, this proposal, if implemented, would both deliver a fairer process for all workers to secure minimum protections, including those lacking access to the internet and/or the language proficiency to make claims and assist investigators in doing their jobs.
(ii) Penalties & Settlements
16. Update time limitations and monetary caps to reduce barriers to employment standards remedies: The increase in minimum wage and barriers to enforcing employment standards leaves many workers owed substantially more than the $10,000 cap on monies recoverable under the ESA. For this reason, in the interest of fairness and to ensure that social minima are up to date (i.e., reflect labour market realities), the Act’s limitation periods and amount of wages recoverable should be brought in line with Ontario’s small claims court. Specifically, the monetary limit on monies that can be recovered should be changed to $25,000 and the ESA time limit should be extended to 2 years to recover wages and entitlements.
17. Worker Representation in the claims-making process: To ensure that all workers have access to the claims process (i.e., universality) and in fairness, allow representation and provide funding for workers to have representation in reporting violations and the claims process as a whole.
3. Voluntary Approaches
18. Purely voluntary approaches to ES regulation and management are not recommended.
(i) Investigations & Inspections
19. Encourage the creation of a public procurement policy: The government of Ontario should require that its contractors adhere to not only minimum ES but industry norms so that the floor of social minima is elevated. In its aim of improving social minima consistent with the costs of living in Ontario, this recommendation is consistent with the call for raising the wage levels, and augmenting the wage package, contained in another LCO report (Vosko and Noack, in this series), although it asks the government to take on a leadership role as a model employer.
20. Support partnerships between state agencies and worker organizatio