Ontario Introducing Highest Fines in Canada for Withholding Worker Passports
Businesses and people who take advantage of vulnerable workers could face millions in fines
March 20, 2023
Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development
Today, the Ontario government is introducing the Working for Workers Act, 2023, which would, if passed, continue to lead the country in providing ground-breaking protections for workers. Announced today as part of the legislation are changes that would strengthen protections for vulnerable and migrant workers by establishing the highest maximum fines in Canada for businesses and people who are convicted of withholding a foreign national’s passport or work permit. Offenders could face a $100,000 to $200,000 penalty for every worker whose rights are violated.
“Anyone who preys on vulnerable members in our community has no place in our society,” said Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development. “If you think you’re going to deny someone’s basic human rights by withholding their passport, we’re going to hit your pocketbook, and you will be behind bars for a long time. We will continue to use every tool in our toolbox to ensure Ontario is a province where hard work pays off and big dreams come true.”
Ministry officers have the power to levy penalties for each passport or work permit a business or person withholds. Legislation introduced today would allow for these penalties to be increased, meaning these bad actors could quickly face millions in fines for their illegal actions. In addition to the per-passport penalties, individuals convicted of withholding passports would be liable to either a fine of up to $500,000, up to 12 months imprisonment, or both. Corporations convicted would be liable to a fine of up to $1 million.
The government is also proposing amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), if passed, would increase the maximum fine for corporations convicted of an offence under the OHSA from $1.5 million to $2 million. This would give Ontario the highest maximum corporate fine under workplace health and safety legislation in Canada. Last spring, the government raised fines for individuals to a maximum of $500,000 and up to a maximum of $1,500,000 for corporate directors.
Also included in Working for Workers 3 are proposed changes to protect remote workers during mass terminations and expanding reasons reservists can take military leave. The government is also proposing amendments to require women’s-only washrooms on construction sites and to expand cancer coverage for firefighters.
These proposed changes expand the ground-breaking changes in the Working for Workers Acts, 2021 and 2022, which are already helping millions of people in Ontario.
- In November 2021, the ministry established a new unit to detect potential labour trafficking activity. This unit’s work has led to criminal human trafficking charges, occupational health and safety and employment standards prosecutions, orders and other compliance activities.
- In the first year of operation, the unit received over 300 tips, initiated investigations and helped 3,500 workers recover over $400,000 in wages.
- The proposed legislative amendments to the Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act (EPFNA) and the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), if passed, would come into force upon Royal Assent.
- Individuals who are aware of labour trafficking or have been subject to labour trafficking, can contact the ministry at firstname.lastname@example.org