Ontario bill creates barriers to ESA complaints: Workers' advocates

Workers must confront employers and provide information about case to Ministry before filing a claim

A new Ontario bill could make it harder for workers to file employment standards complaints, according to workers' advocacy groups.

Bill 68, Ontario's Open for Business Act, was introduced in May as a means to boost investment in the province by streamlining interactions between business and government.

The bill proposes changes to the Employment Standards Act (ESA) that would require workers to first confront their employers about any ESA violations before being allowed to bring a complaint to the Ministry of Labour.

“We need to make it easier for workers to make complaints – not more difficult,” said Sonia Singh of the Workers’ Action Centre. “The direction taken by Bill 68 will put more of a burden onto workers who are the most vulnerable and have the least resources when making a complaint.”

The changes would also require workers to provide information about their case arguments before the Ministry will accept a claim.

“Bill 68 is creating additional burdens for workers without the provision of any support services to assist workers to report unpaid wages. If workers make it through the new hurdles, many will face a new facilitated settlement process to settle for less than basic employment standards,” said Irina Ceric of Parkdale Community Legal Services.

The bill would also authorize employment standards officers to attempt settlements of complaints. However, this could lead to workers getting less than what they are owed under the law, warned the Workers' Action Centre.

Employment standards officers would also be allowed to make decisions when parties fail to attend decision-making meetings or provide evidence on time.

The changes to the ESA are part of the government's plan to eliminate a backlog of 14,000 claims in two years.

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