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Province-wide blitz shows majority of temp agencies on wrong side of the law

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By: Sara Mojtehedzadeh Work and Wealth reporter, Published on Wed Aug 12 2015

Almost 75 per cent of temporary agencies audited by the Ministry of Labour this year broke the law — with the top three offenders based in the GTA, according to a detailed breakdown requested by the Star.

Of the 50 temp agencies visited by the ministry in its latest inspection blitz, just 13 were violation-free. The remaining 37 failed to live up to a range of their duties under the Employment Standards Act, including paying overtime, public holiday pay and vacation pay.

The violations have “significant financial consequences on employees who are probably low-income to begin with,” said Avvy Go, director of the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic.

Universal Workforce of Mississauga was slapped with 12 compliance orders, the highest number of all agencies inspected. Its infractions included nonpayment of wages, shoddy record keeping and excess hours of work.

“If there was a weakness with our company, we did upgrade it,” said the agency’s manager Raff Shan. “We are going the right way after this audit.”

Toronto’s Winters Technical Staffing and North York’s Penguin Event Staffing were issued eight orders each for violations such as illegal deductions from worker’s wages.

Penguin manager Dennis Ahelawan said his agency was contesting the ministry’s orders in court and could not comment while litigation was ongoing. Winters Technical Staffing did not respond to the Star’s requests for comment.

According to the ministry, all the agencies voluntarily paid back the money owed to workers and corrected their violations. In total, the ministry issued 121 compliance orders to agencies and recovered more than $38,500 owed to almost 3,000 employees.

But of the 37 offending agencies, just four were actually fined for flouting the law.

“If the consequences are more severe, then I think it’s better assurance that they will not repeat the same violations,” Go said.

The Star has previously highlighted the plight of temp agency workers, who advocates say are not adequately protected by the province’s outdated employment legislation, which is currently under government review.

Ben Corpuz, a 50-year-old father who moved to Mississauga from the Philippines in 1991, spent eight months working through a temp agency. He says he sees many newcomers in his community abused by agencies because of poor enforcement and lack of education.

“People don’t even know what the Employment Standards Act is. And employers take advantage,” he told the Star.

Last year, the Liberal government introduced Bill 18, which makes both temp agencies and their client companies legally responsible for workers’ wages, public holiday pay and overtime pay. The measure was aimed at ensuring workers receive their minimum rights under the ESA.

The ministry’s last pro-active inspection of temp agencies took place in 2013. That audit, which examined 105 agencies, also found three-quarters in violation of the law.

In an emailed statement to the Star, Ministry of Labour spokesperson William Lin said the rights of employees were “top priority.”

“That’s why our ministry continues to conduct such blitzes, to ensure that the law is being followed.”

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