Labour Standards Reciprocal Enforcement Agreements

On September 29, 2010, the Quebec government enacted Bill 111, An Act to amend the Act respecting labour standards in order to facilitate reciprocal enforcement of decisions ordering the payment of a sum of money. The new legislation allows Quebec to enter into reciprocal agreements with other Canadian provinces and territories to enforce the payment of wages and other moneys owed to local employees of Quebec-based organizations, as laid out in the other jurisdictions’ respective employment standards legislation. This measure is also extended to foreign governments and international organizations.

The new legislation empowers the Commission des normes du travail (Labour Standards Commission) to ensure enforcement in Quebec of decisions of the same nature rendered in another province or territory if, among other things, that province, territory or foreign organization is recognized by the government as offering reciprocity in the enforcement of decisions rendered in Québec. Therefore, these are two-way agreements.

Reciprocal enforcement agreements make it more difficult for employers to avoid paying owed wages by moving out of the province or country. Under the new law, if Quebec does not have a reciprocal enforcement agreement with a particular province, territory or country, it can contact that province or country and try to establish an agreement (and vice versa).

It is important to note that the Quebec government must recognize the jurisdiction in question as having legislation substantially similar to the Act respecting labour standards. The other jurisdiction must be able to enforce decisions concerning employment standards that are rendered in Quebec. Ontario, New Brunswick and Manitoba are three provinces that have such reciprocity provisions in their employment standards legislation.

What kinds of orders or agreements can be enforced?
The procedures that govern the recognition and enforcement of foreign decisions are set forth in sections 785 and 786 of the Quebec Code of Civil Procedure. An application to recognize and enforce a decision outside Quebec—in other jurisdictions of Canada, as well as foreign countries—is filed in the same manner as any other action, that is, by way of a Motion to Institute Proceedings. A plaintiff should attach to this action a copy of the foreign decision together with a certificate from a competent court of the foreign jurisdiction confirming that the decision is final or enforceable. If the decision was rendered by default, the plaintiff must also file certified copies of documents establishing how the proceedings were served on the defaulting party. Finally, all documents drafted in a language other than French or English must be accompanied by a translation that has been authenticated in Quebec.

The Civil Code of Québec (CCQ)—in sections 3155 and 3163—sets forth the principles that govern whether or not a foreign judgment will be recognized in Quebec. The general rule is that Quebec will recognize foreign judgments, but there are several exceptions, including whether the country where the decision was rendered has jurisdiction under the provisions of Quebec law.

The CCQ is a statute of the province of Quebec, and for the most part governs all civil legal matters that fall within the jurisdiction of Quebec. Civil procedure is governed by another statute, the Code of Civil Procedure.

As a result, to initiate a reciprocal enforcement agreement under the Act respecting labour standards, the competent authority of the other jurisdiction concerned—e.g., in Ontario, the Ministry of Labour, Employment Standards Branch—must make a written request to Quebec’s Labour Standards Commission accompanied by: a certified copy of the decision; an attestation affirming that the decision is no longer subject to ordinary redress and is final or still enforceable; and the address and other contact information of the employer concerned. On receipt of a valid request, the commission will file the certified copy of the decision with the office of the Quebec Superior Court in the judicial district where the residence, domicile, head office, business establishment of the employer is located.

Once filed, the decision will be equivalent to a judgment rendered by the Quebec Superior Court and will have exactly the same effects. However, the employer concerned will be able to oppose enforcement of the decision on any ground set out in the Code of Civil Procedure or in paragraphs 1 to 5 of section 3155 of the Civil Code of Québec.

While the amended law refers specifically to Quebec-based employers and is intended to aid Quebec-based employees who work for companies based in other jurisdictions, it should be good news for workers across Canada, making it easier for them to collect unpaid earnings from their out-of-jurisdiction employers, and more difficult for difficult employers to avoid paying workers in other jurisdictions by relocating or claiming immunity in their immediate jurisdiction. Of course, it’s also a win for foreign workers who can make claims against Quebec-based employers.

Hopefully the process for making a claim against an employer will offer employees a more effective method to collect unpaid wages and other moneys owing from negligent employers, and also make it less desirable for employers to attempt to evade such payment claims. And if the process works, hopefully more jurisdictions will implement their own reciprocal labour standards enforcement laws.

I also wonder how this law will interact with recent actions on the interprovincial labour mobility front. A tradesperson certified in Quebec, for example, might be more willing to relocate to another province—but continue to work for the same Quebec-based employer—if she knows that her wages will be more secure. But on the other hand, a shifty employer might refrain from expanding into another jurisdiction if it knows that it will be subject to stricter controls over wage payments to workers in the other jurisdiction.

Well, it’s all speculation for now, but it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

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