Ontario Protecting Workers by Requiring Temporary Help Agency Licences
AMHERSTBURG— The Ontario government is protecting vulnerable and temporary foreign workers by requiring temporary help agencies (THAs) and recruiters to have a licence to operate in the province as of January 1, 2024. Inspections by Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development officers have shown that multiple temporary help agencies in Ontario are illegally paying people below the minimum wage and denying other basic employment rights to gain an unfair competitive advantage over law-abiding agencies by undercutting rates.
“While temporary help agencies are vital to Ontario’s businesses and jobseekers looking to get their foot in the door, for too long they have operated in a grey zone that allows criminals to prey on vulnerable workers,” said Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development. “Our government’s licensing system will ensure law-abiding businesses can have confidence in the THAs and recruiters they work with and that those who abuse workers face the harshest fines in Canada and are banned from operating in our province.”
Many businesses and jobseekers in Ontario are often unaware if an agency or recruiter they are working with is meeting their employment standards obligations or has a history of violations. They will now be able to check the ministry’s online database before working with one, to see if they have met the province’s stringent licensing requirements. It will be against the law for companies to knowingly use unlicensed businesses for staffing, and those who hire deceitful recruiters will be required to repay workers for any illegal fees charged to them.
To operate their businesses, THAs and recruiters will need to provide $25,000 in the form of an irrevocable letter of credit that can be used to repay owed wages to employees. Offenders could face up to a $50,000 penalty based on repeat violations – the highest amount in Canada.
In 2022, the government launched a task force to work with law enforcement agencies and community partners to detect and address illegal practices and recover unpaid wages for exploited employees. Their work has resulted in multiple investigations helping remove hundreds of vulnerable and migrant workers from hazardous working situations. Ontario also recently introduced legislation to strengthen penalties for withholding worker passports.
THAs and recruiters can find more information and apply here.
Those that apply for a licence before January 1, 2024, may continue operating until they receive a decision from the ministry on their application.
If a licence or licence renewal is refused, the applicant has 30 days to cease operating as a THA or recruiter.
Applicants have to apply to renew their licence each year.
There were approximately 2,300 placement agencies and temporary help business locations operating in Ontario in December 2022 according to Statistics Canada.
There were about 114,000 full-time employees employed by temporary help agencies in 2022.
In 2020-21, ministry inspections on THA use in farms, food processing, storage and warehousing and retirement homes found $4.2 million was owed to more than 10,000 employees.
"This licensing system is welcome news for all of Ontario’s temporary foreign workers, including our International Agri-food workers. These changes will ensure all workers have access to resources that protect them, while facilitating growth and prosperity in industries across the province."
- Trevor Jones MPP for Chatham-Kent—Leamington
"This is one more way that the Doug Ford government is working for workers. "
- Anthony Leardi MPP for Essex
"Recruiters and temporary help agencies are critical to helping tourism and hospitality businesses access the skilled workers they need to thrive in Ontario year-round. This new and robust licensing system is a welcome tool to protect some of the most essential workers in our industry and to support businesses in choosing reputable recruitment partners. We congratulate Minister McNaughton on this critical step forward and look forward to continued collaboration with the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development to advance worker protections and elevate the standard of recruitment practices in Ontario. "
- Chris Bloore President and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario
"ACSESS strongly endorses the establishment of a licensing regime ensuring that all temporary help agencies comply with their legal obligations. This initiative creates a level playing field and results in a fairer industry for THAs, their clients and assignment employees alike. We applaud the government for taking a bold approach that includes enforcement initiatives against THAs that operate illegally and the client companies that use them."
- Mary McIninch Executive Director, Government Relations of the Association of Canadian Search, Employment and Staffing Services
"The Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers are pleased to see the steps taken to legitimize temporary help agencies (THAs) and protect a key component of our workforce. These workers are essential to the operations of greenhouse vegetable farms, and ensuring their safety and protections are vital to the continued operations of our sector."
- George Gilvesy Chairman of the Board, Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers (OGVG)
"We applaud the Government of Ontario for today’s announcement to protect vulnerable and temporary foreign workers from unscrupulous companies who sidestep their essential responsibilities by exploiting workers and denying them their labour rights. This announcement is another important step toward achieving our common goals of protecting workers and ensuring companies are competing on a level playing field."
- Jonathan Blackham Director, Policy and Public Affairs Ontario Trucking Association
"The Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking supports Ontario’s efforts to bring greater accountability to the recruitment industry. The new registry will help instill transparency and ensure the government has more information to protect foreign nationals from fraudulent recruiters. This initiative is one of many important steps that we need to take to combat labour trafficking and abusive labour practices in this province."
- Julia Drydyk Executive Director, The Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking