Ministry sleight-of-hand does little to improve employment standards enforcement

(TORONTO) – An announcement last week by the Ministry of Labour that it intends to strengthen the Employment Standards Act by hiring 18 additional enforcement officers was quietly followed days later by a decision to lay off 19 staff doing investigative work. 

On Sept. 17 the Ministry announced with considerable media fanfare that it was hiring the additional 18 officers in a bid to “protect” vulnerable workers from predatory employers who fail to meet minimum standards of wages, hours of work, paid holidays and other regulations under the Act.

Three days later, on Sept. 20, 19 employment standards officers, known as ESO1s, were told they were out of a job, victims of the McGuinty government’s attack on public services as a weapon in its austerity agenda. Seventeen of the 19 officers have 20 or more years of service with the provincial government.

“This move has all the hallmarks of how the McGuinty government goes about misguiding the public and distorting the truth about the future of public services in Ontario,” said Warren (Smokey) Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union. “The Ministry said this was a ‘proactive’ move on its part to protect vulnerable workers; I say it doesn’t move the yardsticks one inch forward in protecting the workplace rights of employees.”

The duties of employment standards officers include investigating complaints from workers, many of whom are new Canadians and who come from minority groups, when their employers fail to meet the requirements of the Act. Each of the affected officers facing layoffs carries an average of 25 investigations at any one time. Under ESA regulations they are required to clear a case within 40 days or pass the file to a more senior officer, known as ESO2s.

“When you get past all the bafflegab coming out of the Minister’s office what we really see is how the government is eliminating that first level of investigation by punting cases to other officers who are already overworked,” said Thomas. “No matter how the Ministry wants to spin this, the issue is that these changes do nothing to strengthen working conditions for tens of  thousands of marginalized workers who already bear the cost of unethical and unscrupulous employers.”

More information:
Len Elliot, OPSEU Chair, Ministry of Labour Employee Relations Committee, cell: (519) 857-4000