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Only 37% of Canadian Companies Ordered to Pay Back Stolen Wages Do So



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An op-ed from The Toronto Star sheds light on the lack of effort being put into fighting wage theft by the Harper government and the effect it has on Canadian workers.  The conservative government under Harper is well-known for anti-unionism, but the unwillingness to fight common illegal behavior by businesses reveals how entrenched this toxic ideology is. From the op-ed:

A Star investigation into vulnerable workers by reporters Sara Mojtehedzadeh and Tara Deschamps found the ministry received 20,742 calls about unpaid wages in 2013-2014 but issued only 2,258 orders to pay — and collected on only 1,443 of them.

Its current success rate is only 37 per cent on the cases where it actually issued orders to pay. Worse, it prosecuted only eight employers who had refused to pay. That is alarming. It’s a Get Out of Jail Free card for employers who refuse to pay their workers.

This is not an issue Labour Minister Kevin Flynn can ignore.

The Star provides specifics on the case of Chelsea Phelan-Tran to illustrate the dramatic impact of wage theft negligence:

Chelsea Phelan-Tran has been waiting for $3,500 for two-and-a-half years from her former employer, publisher Kim McArthur — even though the ministry ruled she was legally owed the money. “The debt still exists,” the ministry says. “But it is unlikely that it will ever be paid.”

Worse, after all the delays in collecting, McArthur declared bankruptcy in 2014, making it even more difficult for the ministry to collect.

This despite the ministry’s assertions its “collection tools are considered to be the most effective means of collecting monies owing,” and that it “pursues all outstanding orders until all avenues are exhausted.”

The government has the ability to make employers pay, The Star insists. Bucking this responsibility seems voluntary:

It’s not as if the ministry doesn’t have any powers. It can require a debtor to appear in front of a judge to disclose his or her assets, and then determine where the money is and pursue it for the employee.

So why isn’t it doing that more often and more successfully?

And after 30 days, the ministry can hold owners of a company personally liable for unpaid wages. That way, even if a company goes under, the ministry can pursue the owner’s assets.

So why isn’t the ministry still trying to collect Phelan-Tran’s wages for her?

To be fair, Flynn acknowledged that he is “investigating what changes would be necessary to make it easier for workers to retrieve owed money.” He says: “These individuals are right. They worked hard for an employer, and they deserve to be paid.”

And as he points out, the ministry did recover $12.4 million for employees across Ontario after complaints about their employers.

Still, as Flynn acknowledges, the ministry has more work to do to collect employee’s’ lost wages. Otherwise employers lose any incentive to pay.

Awareness of wage theft is growing rapidly in the United States. Perhaps Canadian activists will catch the bug and make the needed noise to affect change despite Harper’s propensity for ruling with a cotton fist.


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