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Wage Theft in Canada

A prominent issue that workers face in the Canadian economy today is the appalling amount of wage theft.. Wage theft refers to the denial of employee benefits or wages rightfully owed to an employee.

On average, approximately 15,000 workers each year submit complaints on account of their employers failing to pay wages, overtime, or holiday
pay. Over the course of six years — from 2009 to 2015 — over $47 million were lost by workers due to wage theft, of which only a third (approximately $16 million) was ever recovered. And despite the overwhelming amounts of complaints, only 0.2% of employers were prosecuted.


After years of continuous governmental ignorance of this issue, there was finally a push to solve the issue. Bill 148 was introduced on June 1st 2017, and it had a massive impact. To strengthen workers’ rights and benefits, the Bill ensured that workers had 10 sick days and up to 2 emergency days they could use without any risk of losing their jobs.

Previously, any days taken off were often not compensated for by the employer and, in some cases, the workers were fired. The bill also gave workers the right to refuse last-minute shifts without risking a wage cut. To regulate these changes and uphold worker rights and wages, the new
bill also promised to double the number of Ministry of Labour inspectors in order to account for at least 1 in 10 businesses. These efforts led to a more than 1000% increase in the number of employers prosecuted, but it still wasn’t enough.


A large number of prosecutions occur from worker complaints, but what happens when workers don’t complain? Many employees and workers face barriers when trying to submit complaints and often don’t when faced with the fear of retaliation. There are also some cases where violations are validated by the Ministry of Labour, preventing penalties from being placed on them and allowing employers to avoid paying back their employees.

These are issues that many workers need to be wary of.
In addition to wage theft, there are a number of unfair employment practices that occur in Ontario that workers need to be aware of. Unfair Labour Practices (ULP) in Canada refers to “any action that interferes with an employee’s exercise of Section 7 rights 1 under the National Labour Relations Act or an employee’s exercise of Section 7716 rights 2 under the
Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (FSLMRS).” These include infractions such as but not limited to:

  • failure to pay termination and severance pay;
  • reinstatement aftera leave of absence;
  • vacation or overtime pay;
  • hours of work and eating periods;

One recent complaint has been filed by the Canadian Union of Public Employers against Foodora Canada, claiming that the food-delivery platform decided to pull out of the country due to the potential of their drivers unionizing. This is considered an unfair labour practice as the workers have lost their jobs simply for having the potential to voice their opinions and join a union.

Another prominent case of unfair labour practices occurred in early 2019 when Amazon faced accounts of these practices. Workers alleged that, due to their union drive in November 2017, Amazon had started to cut down their shifts from 12 to 10 hours a day, and from 5 to 3 shifts per day. Amazon also cut off the company’s routes, cutting them from 25 to just 12.

These cuts eventually led to the termination of employees, the closing of one courier company’s Mississauga operations, and the bankruptcy of another. Workers need to be aware of these practices and must know how to report these should the situation arise.

Footnotes:

  1. Section 7 rights refer to the right to life, liberty, and security of the person
  2. Section 7716 rights refer to the expression of personal view or the ability to raise the issue of unfair practices

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