The Ontario Working for Workers Act

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What does it mean for Immigrants?

In the fourth quarter of 2021, Honourable Monte McNaughton, the Ontario Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development, proposed Bill 27, the Working for Workers Act which received Royal Assent and came into force on December 2, 2021. This Act changed several existing Acts, three of which specifically affect immigrants: Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act (Live-in Caregivers and Others), 2009; Employment Standards Act, 2000; and Fair Access to Regulated Professions and Compulsory Trades Act, 2006.  

This article will help you make sense of how these Acts could affect you as an immigrant. 

EMPLOYMENT PROTECTION FOR FOREIGN NATIONALS ACT, 2009 

The key amendment is the prohibition against using recruiters that charge fees to foreign nationals applying to secure jobs with an Ontario employer. The Act also provides that when a recruiter or employer uses the service of a recruitment agency to hire a foreign national, the employer is liable to pay the fees of the recruitment agency and any other fees charged to the hired foreign employee. 

What this means for immigrants 

Foreign nationals must not pay a fee to secure a job with an Ontario employer either on a temporary or permanent basis, even if the recruitment agency that helped them secure the job is not based in Ontario. As long as the employer you’ll be working for is based in Ontario, you must not be charged a fee to secure the job. What if you already paid the fee to a recruitment agency? Your employer is required to make a refund to you. If you have a payment receipt or proof of payment, speak with your employer about reimbursement for the recruitment fee. If your employer refuses to reimburse you, you can file a report with the Employment Standards Information Centre

EMPLOYMENT STANDARDS ACT, 2000 

This Act has three major changes: 

  1. Non-compete Agreement 

No employer shall enter into an employment contract or other agreement with an employee that is or that includes a non-compete agreement. The exception to the non-compete agreement prohibition includes senior executives and a business owner who sells or leases out their business. 

  1. Licensing for Temporary Help Agency and Recruiter 

No person shall operate as a temporary help agency or a recruiter unless the person holds a licence for that purpose. No client shall knowingly engage or use the services of a temporary help agency or recruiter that is not licensed to operate for recruitment purposes. 

  1. Reprisal by recruiter  

No recruiter or person acting on behalf of a recruiter shall intimidate or penalize, or attempt or threaten to intimidate or penalize, a prospective employee who engages or uses the services of the recruiter because the prospective employee, 

  1. asks the recruiter to comply with this Act and the regulations;  
  1.  gives information to an employment standards officer;  
  1. testifies or is required to testify or otherwise participates or is going to participate in a proceeding under this Act; or  
  1. makes inquiries about whether a person holds a licence to operate as a temporary help agency or a licence to act as a recruiter as required. 

What this means for immigrants 

Immigrants employed in Ontario are not bound by a non-compete employment agreement that prohibits them from working for another employer in the same industry or a competitor of their current or past employers. Does this prohibition apply to immigrants who hold employer-specific work permits in Ontario? The exception doesn’t say so. However, if you are a senior executive in the company’s C-Suite, this prohibition does not apply to you. In other words, you are expected to uphold the non-compete agreement you signed with your company. Also, if you are a business owner that has chosen to sell or lease your business, the new business owner can ask you to sign a non-compete agreement to which you must adhere.  

Whether you are resident in Canada or outside Canada looking for a job in Ontario, you must only use recruiters, or a temporary help agency (for support workers) licensed to operate for businesses in Ontario. If you are searching for jobs in Ontario through a recruitment agency, be sure that the recruitment agency is listed among licensed recruiters in Ontario. Likewise, if you are a business owner in Ontario engaging the services of a recruiter, ensure that the recruiter is licensed to practice in Ontario.  

No recruiter is allowed to reprimand, threaten or intimidate you in your quest to comply with this Act. Should you experience any of this, you can report such to the appropriate agency and be compensated. 

FAIR ACCESS TO REGULATED PROFESSIONS AND COMPULSORY TRADES ACT, 2006 

This Act was amended to make it easier for people, especially foreign-trained professionals, to get licensed to practice in regulated professions or compulsory trades in Ontario. A regulated profession is one in which practitioners must obtain a provincial licence to practice. Examples of regulated professions are nursing, medicine, accounting, law, engineering, etc. A compulsory trade requires registration as an apprentice, journeyperson candidate or certification as a journeyperson. Examples of compulsory trades include electrician, hoisting engineer, plumber, steamfitter, etc. 

The key highlights of this Act are: 

  1. Language proficiency 

A regulated profession shall ensure that it complies with any regulations respecting English or French language proficiency testing requirements. 

  1. Canadian experience 

A regulated profession shall not require as a qualification for registration that a person’s experience be Canadian experience unless the Minister grants an exemption from the prohibition for public health and safety in accordance with the regulations. 

  1. Application for exemption 

A regulated profession may apply for an exemption to the Canadian experience prohibition by submitting appropriate supporting documentation and providing reasons that an exemption is necessary for public health and safety. The Minister shall determine whether to grant the exemption. 

  1. Supporting access 

For the administration of this Act, the Minister may support the access of internationally trained individuals to regulated professions by, for example, 

  1.  providing information and assistance to internationally trained individuals who are applicants or potential applicants for registration by a regulated profession with respect to the requirements for registration and the procedures for applying; 
  1.  conducting research, analyzing trends and identifying issues related to the purposes of this Act or to the registration of internationally trained individuals by regulated professions; and 
  1. providing information to organizations that deal with internationally trained individuals, such as ministries, government agencies, regulated professions, community agencies, educational and training institutions and employers, on government programs and services that support the registration of internationally trained individuals in the regulated professions and on fair registration processes within such organizations. 

What this means for immigrants 

Internationally trained immigrants in a regulated profession or compulsory trade usually find it challenging to obtain their licences to practice because of the excruciating licensing process that, in some cases, involves having Canadian work experience. For instance, a foreign-trained nurse is required to obtain a licence to practice nursing in Canada, but to complete their licensure process, they need to have a specific number of work hours as a nurse in Canada. The irony is that they cannot practice nursing in Canada without a Canadian licence, and they cannot get a Canadian licence without practicing nursing in Canada. It’s like saying you need health insurance to get good health, but you can’t get good health without health insurance. A not-so-subtle way of frustrating foreign-educated professionals from practicing their regulated professions.  

According to the Office of the Fairness Commissioner, of the 38 regulated professions in Canada, 26 require work experience. Fifteen of the 26 require Canadian experience, and six require Ontario work experience.  

The prohibition on Canadian work experience for licensure reduces the barrier for foreign-trained regulated professionals in Ontario to obtain their licences. This is a welcome development considering the labour shortages across Canada, especially in regulated professions.  

However, with the possibility of an exemption to the prohibition on Canadian work experience, we’ll have to wait to see how many regulatory bodies will apply for an exemption. Hopefully, not many as this will defeat the purpose of the amendment.  

Foreign-trained regulated professionals now have an incentive to migrate to Ontario. Will other provinces adopt this amendment to avoid losing potential immigrants to Ontario, especially with the additional support that the Minister has pledged to regulated professionals? We’ll have to wait and see! 

Oyin Ajibola
Oyin Ajibola

Oyin is passionate about closing the information gap for newcomers and also fostering conversations on issues that matter to the immigrant community in Canada.

Email: oyin@immigrantmuse.ca

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