A controversial Quebec bill aimed at encouraging people on social assistance to enlist in programs to find a job or get more training has passed into law. 

The new rules, introduced by the Couillard government, first-time welfare recipients deemed capable of working but who refuse to enlist in government-run programs to help them find a job or get more training.

If recipients don't comply, they could see their monthly cheque slashed from $623 down to $399.

The Liberal government and Coalition Avenir Québec voted in favour of the bill on Thursday, while the Parti Québécois and Québec Solidaire voted against it.

Employment Minister François Blais said the goal is to get more people into the workforce, but results from welfare recipients won't be expected right away.

He said the program will be evaluated again in two years to see if it's effective.

Françoise David, a spokeswoman for Québec Solidaire, panned the measures, arguing they put society's most vulnerable at risk.

"My fear is for some people who have a lot of problems like drugs ... or mental problems, they will take the allocation of $400 a month, and probably they won't have any housing," she told reporters in Quebec City.

Welfare rate already low, critics say

coalition objectif dignite

Yann Tremblay-Marcotte and Serge Peticlerc of the Coalition Objectif Dignité warned earlier this year that cutting welfare cheques for some Quebecers could further entrench them in a cycle of poverty. (CBC)

The new rules have also been criticized by anti-poverty groups, which argue they will further entrench the province's vulnerable in a cycle of poverty.

"This is a huge step backwards for human rights in Quebec for anyone who is needing to access benefits," Cathy Inouye, a community organizer at Project Genesis in Montreal's Côte-des-Neiges district, said in an interview.

"The welfare rate is already extremely low."

Yann Tremblay-Marcott, a spokesman for the Coalition Objectif Dignité, has argued the "vast majority of people on welfare are trying to get a job, but they are really facing many things that make it very difficult for them to find a job, and it's our responsibility as a society to help them."

The province says some 17,000 Quebecers apply for welfare each year — many under the age of 29 and many of those from families already receiving social assistance. The new rules won't apply to those already in the system.

with files from Ryan Hicks and The Canadian Press