Government recovers more money owed to vulnerable workers

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Government recovers more money owed to vulnerable workers

Enforcement, Inspections And Collections Target Employers Who Do Not Pay TORONTO, May 27 - Vulnerable workers have received an extra $4.5 million in wages and other money owing due to an employment standards crackdown by the Ontario government, Labour Minister Chris Bentley said today. "Over the last year, we have made tremendous strides collecting money owed through aggressive enforcement, improved collection procedures, more surprise inspections and better education of both employers and employees," said Bentley. "While we've made a good start, much remains to be done. Workers still face hardship due to the small, but troublesome minority of businesses who disobey the law." Bentley announced the strategy to improve compliance with the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA) to better protect vulnerable workers on April 26, 2004. It included the introduction of legislation to end the 60-hour work week, which came into effect on March 1, 2005. This year, the strategy is being stepped up to further enhance enforcement and to conduct 2,500 proactive inspections targeting high risk sectors and employers. As a result of recent activity, the Ministry of Labour has: - Collected $847,000 owing to workers as a direct result of 2,355 proactive inspections - an increase from 151 proactive inspections a year ago. - Recovered an additional $3.7 million owing to 1,180 employees through the ministry collections unit. - Started 226 prosecutions for potential violations of the ESA in 2004, compared to only 97 prosecutions in the previous 14 years. - Enabled officers to issue tickets to employers for violations of the ESA as an immediate and effective deterrent. - Expanded more than 626 claims investigations to ensure that the rights of other employees in the same workplace were not being violated. - Provided easy-to-understand information for employees in 21 languages. More than 40,000 multilingual products have been downloaded from the ministry's website. - Launched the Workplace Gateway (www.serviceontario.ca/workplacegateway/) to provide easy access to information for employers and employees. "We are absolutely determined to protect vulnerable workers while ensuring employers have the information they need to comply with their employment standards obligations," said Bentley. Backgrounder ------------------------------------------------------------------------- GOVERNMENT ACTION PROTECTS VULNERABLE WORKERS TORONTO - Thousands of workers have received more than $4.5 million in money they were owed as a direct result of a four-part employment standards initiative launched by the Ontario government last year. This is money they would not have received without the government initiative. On April 26, 2004, Labour Minister Chris Bentley announced measures to raise awareness of workplace rights and responsibilities, increase proactive "surprise" inspections of high risk sectors, enhance enforcement and shorten the time it takes to process employee claims. Over the past year, there have been major improvements in these key areas. Awareness and knowledge Awareness and knowledge of employment standards law by employees and employers are critical to achieving increased compliance. A year ago, vulnerable workers, especially recent immigrants whose first language is neither English nor French, often had difficulty learning or understanding their rights under the Employment Standards Act, 2000. In addition, employers and employees did not have a single location in which to find the information they needed in order to comply with the act. Since then, the Ministry of Labour has: - Published four easy-to-understand brochures about workplace rights in 21 languages. - Revised and simplified the employment standards poster, which must be posted in all workplaces. It is now easy to download and free. It is also available in 21 languages. - Acted with community partners to get information to those who need it. The ministry has reached out to over 100 organizations to seek their assistance in providing information on employment standards to their clients or members. - Launched the Workplace Gateway (www.serviceontario.ca/workplacegateway/) - a one-stop Internet site where both employers and employees can access information. It complements the extensive multilingual information about employment standards now available on the Ministry of Labour's main website. Proactive inspections The Provincial Auditor in both 1991 and 2004 called for proactive inspections as an important means of protecting workers. The number of these inspections had fallen dramatically so that in 2003/04, only 151 were carried out. Last spring, the government committed to conducting at least 2,000 proactive inspections in 2004/05. In fact 2,355 were carried out, resulting in the recovery of $847,000 owing to employees. That money would not have been recovered without the ministry's proactive inspection blitz. ---------------------------------- ----------------------------------- Number of Proactive Number of Proactive Fiscal Year Inspections Fiscal Year Inspections ---------------------------------- ----------------------------------- 1991/1992 24 1998/1999 1,268 ---------------------------------- ----------------------------------- 1992/1993 26 1999/2000 1,426 ---------------------------------- ----------------------------------- 1993/1994 31 2000/2001 1,543 ---------------------------------- ----------------------------------- 1994/1995 21 2001/2002 1,156 ---------------------------------- ----------------------------------- 1995/1996 31 2002/2003 357 ---------------------------------- ----------------------------------- 1996/1997 10 2003/2004 151 ---------------------------------- ----------------------------------- 1997/1998 474 2004/2005 2,355 ---------------------------------- ----------------------------------- These inspections were targeted at high risk employers in high risk sectors and employers with a history of multiple claims against them. In addition, they sometimes involved situations where an employment standards officer investigating one complaint felt there were more violations in that workplace. In the coming year, the ministry plans to expand its proactive blitz and undertake 2,500 inspections. Prosecutions From 1990 to 2003, a total of 97 prosecutions were started for potential violations of the Employment Standards Act. In April 2004, the ministry committed to using prosecution where appropriate. As a result, 226 prosecutions were initiated in 2004. -------------------------------- -------------------------------------- Year ESA prosecutions Year ESA prosecutions -------------------------------- -------------------------------------- 1990 14 1998 19 -------------------------------- -------------------------------------- 1991 3 1999 5 -------------------------------- -------------------------------------- 1992 17 2000 5 -------------------------------- -------------------------------------- 1993 4 2001 7 -------------------------------- -------------------------------------- 1994 2 2002 1 -------------------------------- -------------------------------------- 1995 3 2003 5 -------------------------------- -------------------------------------- 1996 8 2004 226 -------------------------------- -------------------------------------- 1997 4 Jan 1-April 12/05 51 -------------------------------- -------------------------------------- Since July 1, 2004, employment standards officers have been issuing tickets to employers for employment standards violations under Part I of the Provincial Offences Act. This new ticketing tool is an effective, immediate means to increase compliance. More serious offences continue to be prosecuted under Part III of the Provincial Offences Act, which can result in larger fines and imprisonment. If convicted under Part III, corporations may be fined up to $100,000 for a first offence, $250,000 for a second and $500,000 for a third or more offence. An individual can, for each offence, be fined up to $50,000 or sentenced up to 12 months in jail, or both. Recovering money/resolving claims The ministry's goal is to increase the amount of money it collects for employees and to speed up the time it takes to resolve outstanding claims. Substantial progress has been made on both fronts. The ministry formalized the Centralized Insolvency and Collection Unit, a pilot project that had been set up to improve the level of service and improve the recovery of monies owed to employees. Since its inception, the unit has collected $3.7 million owing to 1,180 employees. This is in addition to money recovered by the ministry's private collection agency. The ministry is working to ensure employees get the money they are owed more quickly. In 2003/04, the average turnaround time for claims filed with the ministry was 87 days. That turnaround time improved to 81 days in the period of April 1, 2004 to January 31, 2005. Disponible en français www.gov.on.ca/lab/ Contact Info For further information: Peter Fitzpatrick, Minister's Office, (416) 326-7710; Belinda Sutton, Ministry of Labour, (416) 326-7405 HELP | CONTACT US | PRIVACY | IMPORTANT NOTICES © Queen's Printer for Ontario, 2008-2009 — Last Modified: February 15, 2009 For further information: Peter Fitzpatrick, Minister's Office, (416) 326-7710; Belinda Sutton, Ministry of Labour, (416) 326-7405