Tuesday, November 14, 2017

BC report highlights rampant wage theft, broken system

The BC Employment Standards Coalition released a report this summer entitled “Workers stories of exploitation and abuse: Why BC Employment Standards needs to change.” BC’s laws governing the terms and conditions of use had been significantly degraded through legislative and regulatory change by the former Liberal government.

The report tells the stories of 145 BC workers whose employers violated their rights or made their lives difficult because BC workers lack certain rights. The most common issues flagged included wage theft (e.g., improper pay, no OT, improper termination, illegal deductions), abusive and unhealthy workplaces (e.g., discrimination, harassment), and scheduling violations (e.g., no breaks, long hours, reduced hours, compulsory OT, scheduling changes).

The stories of wage theft are the ones that will resonate the most with readers. While some stories are of straight up non-payment, it is subtler forms of time and wage-premium theft that the most common:
Brad is a delivery drive and glass installer for a national auto glass company. He stated that because of a significant workload increase, he and his co-workers must start work 20 to 30 minutes early every day without pay. They also have to forego coffee and lunch breaks in order to complete their daily assignments.

John worked in a professional office and was not being paid for overtime. He was given more work than could be handled during normal hours and was expected to stay late to finish it. He was given a company cell phone and expected to be available 24/7. While on vacation, John completed eight hours of unpaid work using a laptop computer that he was asked by his employer to take with him.

Megan is a software developer for an engineering company. When she works overtime, she only gets paid her regular rate of pay. Alternately, she can choose to bank overtime for days off, hour for hour. Megan’s employer also requires her to be available for work at all times, but she is not paid for being on-call. She has reported for work within four hours of a call but only been paid two hours for the call-in. She does not receive overtime pay while working on-call during a weekend. Megan raised the issue of on-call and overtime pay with her employer, but was told there is no overtime pay for extra hours or for on-call extra hours.

Mel is a delivery driver for a retail and wholesale meat company. He reported that all of the employees at his company are “treated like shit” and expected to work for free after the 4 p.m. quitting time. Mel refuses to work overtime for free, but his co-workers regularly stay late without compensation (some of them work from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. without overtime pay).

Mel is familiar with the ESB website but decided the process of filing a complaint was “not worth it,” and that he would not want to sit down with his employer to discuss his complaint. Mel thinks the process should change. (p. 26)
BC’s rules around child labour have been even worse than Alberta’s and the result has been serious injury to young workers:
Justin was 12 when he started a job at an auto salvage company. On his first day, he was stacking car batteries and battery acid spilled on him, soaking through his clothes and burning his chest. He received no medical treatment on the worksite and was told to keep working. He still has scars on his chest from the acid burns.

Cara has permanent disabilities in her back and wrists from working with animals when she was 13. Cara’s employer blamed her for incurring injuries and promptly fired her. When Cara’s mother complained, the employer paid Cara some compensation for the injuries. However, Cara was not rehired and the employer never filed an injury report. Four years later, Cara still has debilitating pain and avoids using one of her hands.

Cory was 13 when he started working. He was hired to work construction cleanup at ap- proximately 35 hours per week. Though the law requires an employer to obtain a letter of permission from a parent before hiring someone under the age of 15, Cory’s parents weren’t asked for such a letter. Corey was promised a video game as payment, which he never received. On one occasion, he fell through scaffolding and landed one story below. Corey’s boss offered him a beer. He was in pain for about a week, and no WorkSafeBC accident report was filed. (p. 32)
The stories of temporary foreign workers employed on farms and as domestics are also worth a read. Finally, the report touches on how worker-hostile the employment standards claim process is in BC:
Bianca was a manager in the kitchen operated by Compass Canada at Hudson’s Bay. Her employer was not paying her for all the hours she worked, nor were they paying her over- time pay. She raised the issue many times with her employer but was told not to worry and that she would be looked after. Bianca finally quit and filed a complaint with ESB. She was required to participate by phone in a mediation with her employer and an ESB officer. Bianca’s employer kept giving “low ball” offers to try to get her to settle. When she did not accept any of the offers, the officer told her she should settle and stop wasting everyone’s time. Bianca refused to settle and a hearing was scheduled.

The employer did not show up for the first hearing date. At the second hearing, the employer did not bring the paperwork they had been asked to bring. During the proceedings, the officer treated Bianca with disrespect. He often turned his back on her, and referred to her, when speaking with the employer, as “she” and “her,” but never by name. The officer got into arguments with the complainant. She was finally pressured into settling for less than what was owed to her. It took months to reach this settlement. “After the hearing I went outside and cried,” said Bianca. “I was so intimidated and furious and disappointed with how I was treated.”

“I would tell people not to bother filing an employment standards complaint unless they have a lawyer,” said Bianca, when asked for advice to give other workers. “They will just end up frustrated and even more angry. The system is not made for solving violations. The self-help kit is designed to intimidate people and it is difficult to understand.” (p. 51).
It is worth noting that “Since 2000/2001, the number of branch offices has been reduced from 17 to 9 (a 47 per cent reduction), and the total number of branch staff has been reduced from148 to 74 (a 50 per cent reduction). At the same time, total employment in BC has increased by 23 per cent, and the number of establishments with employees has increased by 25 per cent.” (p. 53)

Overall, the report suggests three things: (1) BC’s Employment Standards are inadequate, (2) what standards there are routinely violated by employers to minimize labour costs, and (3) BC does a very poor job of enforcing the standards. An open question is whether BC’s recently elected New Democratic government will do anything meaningful about it.

-- Bob Barnetson

No comments:

Post a Comment