On July 16, 2014, the Ontario Government introduced  Bill 18, Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act, 2014.  The Bill proposes changes that would (among other things) remove existing limits on unpaid wage claims, make temporary help agencies and their clients jointly liable for unpaid wages, and impose automatic adjustments to minimum wage based on the Consumer Price Index.

The proposed changes are summarized below.  Some of the proposals set out under Bill 18 overlap with previous legislative proposals we discussed in a former blog.  Click here to review our former blog.

1. Changes to Claims for Unpaid Wages

  • The $10,000 limit for unpaid wages claims will be removed from the Employment Standards Act (ESA).
  • The limitation period for recovery of unpaid wages will be increased from six months to two years.
  • Although many unpaid wage claims can already be initiated for up to two years in a civil claim, employees would have a faster and more cost effective avenue for recovering unpaid wages after the six months.

2. New Timelines for Challenging Existing Unions – Construction Sector

  • In the construction industry, Bill 18 would shorten the window (from three months to two months) in which a new union may displace an existing union or employees may apply to decertify an existing union.

3. Minimum Wage Adjustments to Reflect the Consumer Price Index

  • On October 15th of each year, starting in 2015, the minimum wage would be adjusted to take into account changes in the Consumer Price Index. However, where the calculation would result in an adjusted decrease to the minimum wage, no adjustment would be made.

4. Additional Protection for Foreign Nationals

  • Bill 18 would extend the Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act, 2009 to apply, not only to live-in caregivers, but also to anyone who works in Ontario or is attempting to find work in Ontario through an immigration or foreign temporary employee program, as well as to their employers and recruiters.

5. Changes to the Relationship between Temporary Employees, Employment Agencies, and Agency Clients

  • For the purposes of some of the provisions of the ESA, both the temporary employment agency and the agency’s client may be considered “employers” of an employee. Both the agency and the client will be required to keep records for each assigned employee for three years, and both the agency and the client may be jointly and severally liable for an assigned employee’s wages. Although the primary responsibility for paying the employee’s wages still rests on the agency, an employee may commence proceedings against the agency’s client for unpaid wages, even if there is an ongoing action against the agency itself.
  • If an employee sustains an injury while working for a temporary employment agency’s client, Bill 18 amends the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997so that the Board may do the following:
    • Deem that all wages paid to the employee while working for the client were paid by the client, rather than the agency;
    • Attribute the injury and accident costs to the client; and
    • Increase or decrease the client’s insurance premiums based on the frequency of injuries, accident costs, or both

6. New Meaning of “Worker” under the Occupational Health and Safety Act

  • Bill 18 would expand the meaning of the word “worker” under the Occupational Health and Safety Act by including secondary school students in work experience programs, a person who provides unpaid work or services under a program by a college, university or other post-secondary institution and other persons who are classified as interns.

Bill 18 is not yet law in Ontario, and proposed legislation is normally amended before it becomes law.