On May 29, Dr. Alan Hall, Chair of the Windsor Workers’ Action Centre board and Paul Chislett, President of WWAC attended a meeting with Jesse Rosenberg, Policy Advisor for the Minister of Labour. We met for about 45 minutes and discussed the need for more workplace inspections by the MOL , wage theft, the private members bill on tips, and the Global Fiber Recovery (GFR) issue where workers did not receive pay for work done. Paul Chislett assembled a package outlining the history of the owners of GFR in the Toronto area which carried over to their operations in Windsor. At this time the MOL indicates the owners are no longer in business. More needs to be done and we will be asking Labour critic and NDP Essex MPP Taras Natyshak to do all he can to get these unscrupulous business people to pay their former employees.
Below is the Brief Dr Hall presented to Mr Rosenberg:
Brief to the Ontario Ministry of Labour
re: Wage Theft and Enforcement
Windsor Workers’ Action Centre
May 28, 2012
People in our community are struggling with job insecurity and poverty. The Windsor Workers’ Action Centre has been working with vulnerable workers in our community for four years, and in our experience, we have repeatedly found that Employment Standards offer little protection in our communities and workplaces against unpaid wages. When employers don’t pay wages or minimum standards, it is workers who shoulder the burden. A recent survey by the Toronto Workers’ Action Centre of people in low-wage work found that 22 percent earned less than minimum wage, while one in three reported being owed wages. A study done by the Windsor Centre and the University of Windsor on young workers found similarly that 25% reported multiple incidents where they were not paid their full wages while 27% reported not getting paid properly for over time.
It is not only workers who suffer when wage theft persists at this level. When businesses are allowed to violate the law, responsible employers are forced to deal with the impact of the lack of enforcement of basic standards. All employers have to then compete unfairly which threatens to bring down basic standards throughout the labour market.
There is also a broader impact from unpaid wages. Workers who lose hard-earned wages reduce spending in local economies, are in danger of losing their housing and in many cases are forced to go on to Employment Insurance or Social Assistance if they qualify. This has significant health and social costs for workers, their families and communities across Ontario. Stopping wage theft is central to Ontario’s economic and job recovery agenda as it supports workers and their families who are the most vulnerable in today’s labour market.
We urge you to put worker’s wages back in the hands of workers so that they can pay the bills, take care of their families and contribute to communities and our economy. More specifically, we urge you to give careful consideration and attention to the following policy and reform recommendations:
1) Establish proactive approaches to enforcement aimed at detecting violations and preventing future violations through five key steps:
a) initiate strategic targeted enforcement aimed at high risk industries (e.g. restaurants and bars), frequent violators, and vulnerable populations (new Canadians, young workers, migrant workers). This will require additional enforcement resources but also more active investigations, data collection, analysis and benchmarking;
b) conduct routine audits with all offenders as follow-ups to enforcement;
c) expand investigations and audits for all substantiated individual ESA claims;
d) identify and target certain core practices or trends in employment which are undermining access to rights and pursue investigations (e.g. independent contractors); and,
e) coordinate multi-agency or departmental investigations (e.g. OSH and ESA inspectorates, human rights tribunal)
2) Establish set fines and end the practice of using Part 1 $360 tickets to punish violators and impose substantially higher fines at least equivalent to the amount of money involved. Prosecute to the full extent of the law all repeat violators and employers found to have engaged in reprisals or intimidation. Make employers pay the full administrative costs of inspecting and enforcing the ESA.
3) Where MOL inspectors become aware of flagrant and sustained criminal fraud committed by employers against workers (e.g see submission on Global Fiber recovery), contact and cooperate with the relevant Police agencies, encouraging police investigations and charges if the evidence warrants.
4) Rescind the Bill 68 changes which require workers to go to their employer before filing a claim and impose an obligation on workers to collect relevant employer information on their claim
5) Introduce a positive duty or obligation on employers to prevent violations in the ESA.
6) Provide the MOL with the power to embargo any goods or services produced in violation of the ESA.
7) Permit and support third party and anonymous complaints to initiate inspections
8 ) Provide better person to person access in processing claims and insure funded representation for workers
9) Eliminate the $10,000 cap on recoverable funds and discourage the practice of negotiating reduced settlements in claims processing.
10) Introduce a new standard which insures that employers are unable to retain all or a portion of tips.
11) Promote partnerships between the MOL and community organizations such as the Workers’ Centres.
12) Promote unionization and other mechanisms for collective negotiations including the self-employed
We look forward to your response to these recommendations.