From the equality of rights springs identity of our highest interests; you cannot subvert your neighbor's rights without striking a dangerous blow at your own. Carl Schurz

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Ontario's Slave Labour Market

Back in early march I had a rather disheartening conversation with the 27year old son of a close friend. This young man has never known stable long term employment in his lifetime, only a series of contract and temp jobs. He told me of his predicament at work, where he and his coworkers were not permitted breaks and had to work through their lunch period,eating as they worked. Plus on top of this they were regularly short changed on their paychecks.

I naively suggested that he file a complaint with the Ontario Ministry of Labour, well he looked at me like I was from another planet unfamiliar with how things work here on Earth.He then said that those who have complained have found themselves no longer sent out on assignments by the agency that they work for and that most of the other agencies shied away from taking them on, effectively blacklisting them. So people such as my friend's son soldier on accepting the abuse of their rights in the belief that they have no option because the alternative is worse.

Which brings me to this story about wage theft, that appeared in the Star this week, which in turn led me to the Workers’ Action Centre, a site I hadn't visited for some time and to be honest had forgotten about. Go check it it out and read their report on wage theft in Ontario.  Unpaid Wages, Unprotected Workers surveyed 520 low wage workers and found that wage theft is not only rampant but largely goes unpunished, with enforcement nearly nonexistent.

Some of it's findings are as follows
• 20% earned less than minimum wage
• 39% failed to receive earned overtime pay
• 36% were fired or laid off without termination pay or notice
• 34% struggled to get vacation pay
• 33% were owed wages and of those only 23 per cent were ever paid

One suggestion that I have is to stop treating wage theft as a civil matter and instead make it what it is a criminal act and subject to all that entails including imprisonment if warranted.


  1. It's not just low paid and temp workers that get treated like this. Skilled labour in kitchens of upscale restaurants, for example, often face the same boys-club of owners with a funny way of forgetting to pay overtime.

  2. Hi Morning, With most people fearing for their jobs these days and employers knowledge that governments will merely wink at their abuses, I'm sure these tactics are becoming widespread throughout all levels of employment