2009 January - Download PDF

 

Ontario Poverty Reduction Strategy

On December 4, 2008, the Government of Ontario released its Poverty Reduction Strategy entitled “Breaking the Cycle”. The Government is committing itself to reduce the number of children living in poverty by 25 per cent over 5 years.

The Ontario Poverty Reduction Strategy, which is focused child poverty, contains several measures which cover areas such as school readiness, educational attainment, health care and housing. For instance, the Strategy includes an increase to the Ontario Child Benefit that would provide 1.3 million children in low income families with up to $1,310 annually. It aims at tripling the number of Parenting and Family Literacy Centres to a total of 300 across the province, and investing in an After School Program to give kids activities after school.

As part of the plan, the Government will undertake a review of social assistance with the goal of removing barriers and increasing opportunity. It will also invest in a Community Opportunities Fund and providing funds
to the Provincial Rent Bank Program in order to build stronger and safer communities.

The Ontario Strategy is a positive first step to address an important issue. The question remains, however, whether or not the measures that are being put in place, even if they are fully implemented, will be sufficient
to ensure that those who are over-represented among the poor will ultimately escape from poverty.

This is an important question particularly for racialized communities. As the report recently released by the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto shows, even child poverty is racialized, that is, disproportionate to people
of colour who are Canadian-born and newcomers. The CAS study shows:

  • One child in ten in low income among global European groups;
  • One child in five for East Asian groups;
  • One child in four for Aboriginal, South Asian, Caribbean, South & Central American groups;
  • One child in three for children of Arab and West Asian groups; and
  • One child in two for children of African groups.

In other words, the darker your skin colour, the poorer the child is.

Children are poor because their parents or caretakers are poor. Racial minorities as a group are over-represented among the poor in this province. As the United Way of Greater Toronto’s “Poverty by Postal Code” analysis showed, poverty among “visible minority” or racialized groups in Toronto rose by 361% between 1980 and 2000, while it actually fell by 28% among the rest of the population.

With members of racialized communities being over-represented among the poor and working poor in Ontario, an effective and meaningful poverty reduction plan must contain measures which specifically target these communities.

While the Government’s plan acknowledges that different groups experience poverty differently and have different causes for poverty, it does not contain many specific measures to address the needs of these
different groups. The report named the key groups who are disproportionately affected by poverty: New Ontarians, People with Disabilities, Women, Aboriginal Peoples, Seniors and Homeless. Racialized communities are not named as among the key groups.

Without a race based analysis, a well intended poverty reduction plan may result in unintended negative effects on racialized communities.

What the Government should do is to expand its poverty reduction plan to include targeted measures to close the economic gaps between racialized communities on the one hand, and the rest of the population on the others. For instance, the Government should bring back mandatory employment equity in Ontario to level the playing field for all racialized communities and other historically disadvantaged groups.

A poverty reduction strategy that ignores the impact of race, gender, ability and other factors that can signify marginalization would simply not be effective in the long run.

 

New Law for Temporary Agency Workers

Since 2006 our Clinic and other community organizations serving the Chinese community have been raising a lot of issues and concerns about the lack of protection for temporary agency workers with the Ministry of Labour. We organized workers to meet with officials of the Ministry and we wrote letters and met with the Minister and his policy development staff to raise our concerns and give our recommendations for changes
to the employment legislation.

Their initial response was that the existing employment law already has some protection for temporary agency workers but the Ministry agreed to initiate some target workplace inspections. Finally in December 2008, the Ontario Government proposed new legislation to protect temporary agency workers.

The following is a summary of the proposed legislation:

Currently, workers who “may elect to work or not to work when requested to do so” were exempt from the Employment Standards Act (ESA) requirements regarding public holidays, notice of termination and severance pay. The Regulations to the Employment Standards Act have already been amended to remove “elect to work” exemptions regarding public holidays, effective January 2, 2009.

Therefore, temporary agency workers will have the same right on the 9 days public holiday entitlements as other workers. If the new legislation passes, the Ontario government intends to enact another regulation
removing the “elect to work” exemptions regarding termination and severance pay.

Currently, a temporary help agency may ask a person to pay a fee for helping him or her find a job. Agencies may also charge fees for other services such as classes on resume writing or preparation for interviews. The new law will prohibit temporary help agency from charging workers such fees.

When an agency offers a work assignment to a worker, the agency has to provide the name, contact information, wages, benefits, hours of work, pay schedule, and a general description of the work and the
workplace to the worker in writing. The agency also needs to provide the agency’s name and contact information to the worker, together with an information sheet prepared by the Ministry of Labour on the employee’s ESA rights.

Currently, a temporary help agency may charge the worker or workplace employer a fee when changing from temporary to permanent employment. The new legislation will prohibit agencies from restricting workers from taking permanent employment with the workplace employer, or charging the worker a fee for doing so. It will also prohibit the agency from charging the workplace employer a “temporary to permanent fee” after six months or more have passed since the worker was first assigned to the workplace. The agency cannot restrict the workplace employer from providing references to the worker or entering into a permanent employment relationship with the worker.

Currently, temporary help agencies are generally considered to be the worker’s employer. The agency is responsible for making sure employment standards rights are met. The proposed law would prohibit the workplace employer from engaging in reprisals against the worker for asserting his or her rights under employment and labour law.

We think the new legislation proposed by the Ontario government is an important step to protecting the rights of more than 700,000 temporary agency workers in the province. However there are still important outstanding issues such as equal pay for equal work (i.e.) 2 tiers of workers working the same job but one group of workers receives much lower wages and usually does not have any job benefits or job security and that lack of a time limit on how long “temporary” can extend.

Our clinic will therefore continue to work with other community organizations to advocate to the Ministry of Labour for stronger protection and changes in the law to protect workers.

 

The New Human Rights System in Ontario

On June 30, 2008, the law regarding the Human Rights Code was changed thereby also significantly changing the human rights system in Ontario with the goal of making it more effective and efficient.

The Human Rights Code is the law which provides for the equal rights and opportunities of everyone and freedom from discrimination. The Code applies to employment, housing, facilities and services, contracts and
membership in unions, trade or professional associations. The Code specifies that persons cannot be discriminated against because of their age, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and disability.

As of June 30, 2008, any new human rights complaints will be processed by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (“the Tribunal’) instead of the Ontario Human Rights Commission ( “the Commission”). The Ontario
Human Rights Commission will continue to exist but it’s mandate and function have been modified. A new entity which did not exist before called the Human Rights Legal Support Centre ( “the Centre”) will offer
independent human rights related legal and support services to individuals.

Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario

The Tribunal will now process all new applications/complaints directly. The Commission will no longer be processing the complaints and then referring them to the Tribunal.

If you believe your human rights have been violated and you want to make a human rights claim, you have to file an application at the Tribunal. The application form ( Form 1) is available on the Tribunal’s website or can be picked up at the Tribunal. If you need help with filling out the application, you can ask the Human Rights Legal Support Centre for assistance. They will explain how the law applies to your situation and how to complete the application. 

The application form requires you to tell your story in a detailed way. It is important to recount the facts of your case in an organized way and in chronological sequence. Include important dates and details of important documents in the story. You also have to explain why you feel you were discriminated against and who violated your human rights. You also have to include what you want the Tribunal to do (ie) monetary compensation or perhaps for the Tribunal to order that the respondent change it’s practises and polices. You also have to list important witnesses and why they are important in helping you prove your case.

After your application is submitted, the Tribunal will review it to see if what happened to you is covered by the Human Rights Code. If it is and your claim is not already before the Courts, the Tribunal will process your application.

The Tribunal will then send the person/organization you are complaining against ( “the Respondent”) a copy of your application and give the respondent 35 days to respond. It is important to note that the Tribunal will not send the respondent your list of witnesses. If the respondent does not file a response, then the Tribunal will issue a default order. 

In processing the application, the Tribunal will use different methods to try to resolve your application as efficiently as possible such as mediation and pre-hearing assessments which clarify the issues in dispute and decide what issues are relevant and which are not.

The Tribunal’s goal is to have applications dealt with to completion within a year. Since the Tribunal, under the revised human rights system just started taking new cases in June 30, 2008, we do not know yet whether it can meet this one year timeline as these new cases are not one year old yet and the Tribunal’s caseload will grow as times passes.

The Tribunal’s website is www.hrto.ca and it’s address in Toronto is 655 Bay Street, 14th Floor, Toronto, Ontario M7A 2A3 – phone number : 416-326-1312.

It is also important to know that the Tribunal cannot hear complaints about federally regulated companies and industries such as chartered banks, airlines, telephone companies, television and radio stations and bus and
railways that travel between provinces because the Canadian Human Rights Commission in Ottawa deals with those complaints. The website for the CHRC is http://www.chrc-ccdp.ca

Human Rights Legal Support Centre

The Centre provides legal advice and assistance to those in Ontario who want to or have made a human rights application. This assistance can be before completing an application, explaining the Human Rights Code to you or assisting you at any stage of the Tribunal’s process after filing the application such as mediation or the hearing.

If you need help from the Centre, you can call them at 416-314-6266 and speak to one of their intake workers or at 1-866-625-5179 if calling from outside of Toronto. The Centre is located at 400 University Avenue, 7th
Floor, Toronto, Ontario M7A 1X8.

Ontario Human Rights Commission

The Commission is no longer responsible for the processing of individual human rights cases. Cases that were filed with the Commission before June 30, 2008 and which have not been completed can be dropped and a new application filed with the Tribunal under it’s “expedited process” by filing an application with the Tribunal between June 30, 2008 and December 31, 2008. The other option is to continue to let the Commission process your application and if your application has not been finally decided by January 1, 2009, you can file an application with the Tribunal.

Now that the Commission is no longer responsible for processing individual human rights complaints, its power to prevent discrimination and advancing human rights in Ontario has been strengthened. The Commission can conduct public inquiries, initiate it’s own applications, intervene in proceedings before the Tribunal and use public education, policy development to prevent discrimination. Since the Commission has broad inquiry powers, the Tribunal and refer matters to the Commission to conduct an inquiry.