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Ministry of Labour puts hold on proactive workplace inspections, internal memo says

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The Ministry of Labour has instructed staff not to initiate any new proactive inspections aimed at preventing wage theft and other employment standards violations, according to an internal memo obtained by the Star — a day after the Progressive Conservative government introduced a bill that will significantly roll back recently enacted labour protections.

The memo, which is signed by the ministry’s acting director of employment standards, Joe Boeswald, says that as of Sept. 3, staff should “not initiate any new inspections.” It also says the ministry will defer inspection and prosecution training for staff who have not yet received it.

Protesters, some with the Ontario Federation of Labour and others with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, joined a Day of Action in Oakville last week urging the Ford government to keep its hands off the proposed $15 minimum wage. On Tuesday, the province took steps to freeze the minimum wage at $14 and roll back other gains for workers.
Protesters, some with the Ontario Federation of Labour and others with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, joined a Day of Action in Oakville last week urging the Ford government to keep its hands off the proposed $15 minimum wage. On Tuesday, the province took steps to freeze the minimum wage at $14 and roll back other gains for workers.  (Graham Paine / Metroland)

Employment standards inspections deal with basic workplace issues such as unpaid wages and overtime. Proactive inspections, which are initiated at the behest of the ministry, are far more effective at recovering unpaid wages, including public holiday pay and overtime, than when individual workers file complaints, according to the ministry’s own data.

Andrew Langille, an employment and labour lawyer with East Toronto Community Legal Services, called the move “very troubling.”

“Inspections are important because they are the backbone of enforcement of the ESA (Employment Standards Act),” he said. “It’s really the only way to detect widespread violations of the minimum social standards other than employees reporting violations themselves.”

According to the memo dated Aug. 30, the move is motivated by a significant backlog of employment standards claims filed by workers — exacerbated by a “discretionary spending freeze and subsequent suspension of recruitment” at the ministry.

In response to questions from the Star, a ministry spokesperson said the “measures taken are temporary and will be re-evaluated as wait times decrease.”

“The Ministry of Labour continues to identify and conduct proactive Health and Safety inspections and other safety initiatives on specific industry sectors to raise awareness and help prevent injuries and fatalities,” spokesperson Janet Deline said in an email. “We also continue to conduct reactive investigations in response to workplace fatalities, critical injuries, work refusals and complaints.”

“Any inspections that are underway will be completed in the normal manner,” she added.

As first reported by the Star, a commitment by the Liberals to double its complement of employment standards inspectors by hiring 175 new staff was iced after the Conservatives were elected in June.

The memo says to deal with increased wait times, inspectors will have to focus on claims and should not initiate any new inspections. The memo does not specify for how long.

Bill 47, introduced in the legislature Tuesday, will repeal other Liberal measures meant to tackle precarious work, including a minimum wage bump, sick days, and equal pay provisions for temporary workers. It also reduces the maximum penalties for employers who break the law.

Responding to worker claims could still require inspectors to visit workplaces, but the memo means all future proactive blitzes — for example, of high-risk sectors like temp agencies — are on hold.

Last year, the government recovered only one-third of the wages owed to individual workers after they filed claims, according to documents obtained by the Star through a Freedom of Information request.

Since 2013, this low recovery rate has resulted in some $28 million in missing wages for workers, according to 2016 research conducted by York University academics Leah Vosko and Eric Tucker, based on ministry data.

The recovery rate when the ministry inspected workplaces was almost 100 per cent.

“There’s a major problem when it comes to detecting infractions for workers who remain in the workplace,” said Langille.

“There’s a fear of reprisal, which is quite a live issue that I see in my practice quite extensively,” he said, adding that workers often have a “poor understanding” of their rights and the claims process.

Vosko and Tucker’s research found that more than 90 per cent of the approximately 15,000 annual employment standards complaints are filed by people who have left or lost their jobs.

The Star has reported extensively on wage theft and other enforcement issues across the province.

A 2016 report by two independent experts commissioned by the Ministry of Labour to review the province’s workplace standards also found that Ontario faces “serious” and extensive problems enforcing basic employment rights.

“We conclude that there is a serious problem with enforcement of (Employment Standards Act) provisions,” the report reads. “While most employers likely comply or try to comply with the ESA, we conclude that there are too many people in too many workplaces who do not receive their basic rights.”

Ministry blitzes in the past regularly found violations in more than 75 per cent of workplaces inspected.

Langille said underresourcing at the Ministry of Labour has been a systemic problem under successive governments.

“This is an issue that cuts across all governments,” he said. “This is an enduring problem that the ministry has encountered.”

Sara Mojtehedzadeh is a Toronto-based reporter covering labour issues. Follow her on Twitter: @saramojtehedz

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Anglais

Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme

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Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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