Toronto Star

Help these workers


It’s hard to believe you could work for a company and not get paid. But that’s what’s happening to thousands of workers across Ontario each year.

And though the Ministry of Labour has the means to collect wages on behalf of employees, it appears to be failing miserably.

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. Consider the case of just one of those thousands of employees waiting for unpaid wages. Chelsea Phelan-Tran has been waiting for $3,500 for 2 1⁄ years from her former employer, publisher Kim

2 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.”

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 employees’ lost wages. Otherwise employers lose any incentive to pay.

Everyone deserves to be paid for their work. The ministry must do better on collecting back wages.

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