Scof­flaw em­ploy­ers don’t learn their lessons

Min­istry in­spec­tion finds 75% of work­places con­tin­ued to be in non-com­pli­ance with law


Once burned, twice shy. So goes the ageold adage. But ac­cord­ing to the Min­istry of Labour’s lat­est in­spec­tion blitz, it doesn’t al­ways ap­ply to bosses break­ing work­place laws.

Al­most three-quar­ters of em­ploy­ers with a “his­tory of non-com­pli­ance” — the tar­gets of the min­istry’s lat­est round of in­spec­tions — were re­vealed to be still vi­o­lat­ing em­ploy­ment stan­dards, ac­cord­ing to a de­tailed break­down of the in­ves­ti­ga­tions re­quested by the Star.

The so-called “zero tol­er­ance” blitz tar­geted 103 work­places where two or more vi­o­la­tions were dis­cov­ered in the past three years, in sec­tors where pre­car­i­ous work is a grow­ing is­sue like gyms, main­te­nance, and se­cu­rity ser­vices. Only 28 em­ploy­ers were fully com­pli­ant with the law.

“It is the Min­istry of Labour’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to put a stop to these prac­tices,” said John No, a lawyer fo­cus­ing on work­ers’ rights at Parkdale Com­mu­nity Le­gal Ser­vices. “Un­for­tu­nately for a lot of work­ers, it’s not the first time they’ve been cheated.”

Some of the most com­mon vi­o­la­tions were around ex­cess hours of work, pub­lic hol­i­day pay, shoddy record-keep­ing and over­time pay.

The min­istry said it re­cov­ered $125,267 in un­paid en­ti­tle­ments to work­ers and that all em­ploy­ers vol­un­tar­ily com­plied with orders to pay. It is­sued 42 fines rang­ing from $250 to about $300.

“Em­ploy­ees de­serve to be paid for the hours they work. We con­tinue to be vig­i­lant to en­sure all work­ing On­tar­i­ans re­ceive their en­ti­tle­ments un­der the Em­ploy­ment Stan­dards Act,” said a labour min­istry spokesper­son, Janet De­line.

“The lat­est fig­ures show that sim­ple ed­u­ca­tion of em­ploy­ers is not suf­fi­cient.” JOHN NO PARKDALE COM­MU­NITY LE­GAL SER­VICES

De­line said the min­istry’s tac­tics in­cluded ed­u­cat­ing em­ploy­ers, proac­tively in­spect­ing work­places and fin­ing or prose­cut­ing bosses where nec­es­sary.

“The lat­est fig­ures show that sim­ple ed­u­ca­tion of em­ploy­ers is not suf­fi­cient,” No said. “There has to be strong dis­in­cen­tives, strong en­force­ment mea­sures put in place to en­sure that work­ers are not be­ing ex­ploited or cheated out of their wages.”

The Min­istry of Labour has taken steps over the past year to ramp up en­force­ment: Since 2015, the num­ber of law­break­ing On­tario bosses fac­ing pros­e­cu­tion has risen by more than 40 per cent, ac­cord­ing to min­istry sta­tis­tics. Proac­tive in­spec­tion blitzes do not need to be trig­gered by in­di­vid­ual worker com­plaints. In­stead, they fo­cus broadly on high­risk sec­tors and can be ini­ti­ated at the will of the min­istry — al­though em­ploy­ers are given ad­vance no­tice that the in­spec­tion will take place.

The com­pa­nies tar­geted in the lat­est round in­cluded GoodLife Fit­ness, which in a pre­vi­ous blitz was in vi­o­la­tion of five dif­fer­ent work­place laws, in­clud­ing poor record keep­ing and fail­ure to post re­quired in­for­ma­tion in the work­place. This time, the con­tra­ven­tions in­cluded im­proper de­duc­tions from wages, ex­cess hours of work, and over­time pay vi­o­la­tions.

In a state­ment to the Star, a GoodLife spokesper­son, Krista Mal­ing, said the or­ga­ni­za­tion took “im­me­di­ate steps to rec­tify the mat­ters by, among other things, amend­ing our on­board­ing pro­ce­dures and ed­u­cat­ing/re­mind­ing our man­age­ment team about the rel­e­vant pro­vi­sions of the Em­ploy­ment Stan­dards Act.”

“Specif­i­cally, the ‘un­law­ful de­duc­tions from wages’ find­ing in­cluded a prac­tice of in­form­ing em­ploy­ees ver­bally (ver­sus in writ­ing) that their con­tri­bu­tion to their ben­e­fit pro­gram would be de­ducted from their wages,” she added.

Ac­cord­ing to the “zero-tol­er­ance” in­spec­tion records, Burling­ton­based So­lar Wave En­ergy, which in­stalls so­lar pool heat­ing sys­tems, had the sin­gle high­est num­ber of in­frac­tions with eight.

But owner Jesse Christink said the find­ings say more about On­tario’s con­fus­ing web of em­ploy­ment laws than de­lib­er­ate wrong­do­ing. Christink said sev­eral em­ploy­ees who were fired some years ago filed a com­plaint against him seek­ing over­time pay and pub­lic hol­i­day pay. But un­der ex­ist­ing leg­is­la­tion, swim­ming pool in­stall­ers be­long to a group of dozens of pro­fes­sions that are ex­empt from pay­ing cer­tain en­ti­tle- ments. Christink said the min­istry ruled his com­pany qual­i­fied for the ex­emp­tion, and the case was set­tled pri­vately. But when in­spec­tors ar­rived for the lat­est blitz, he said, they de­ter­mined he was not in fact el­i­gi­ble for the ex­emp­tion — and dinged him for such con­tra­ven­tions as ex­cess hours of work, over­time pay and pub­lic hol­i­day pay.

“It’s kind of a case of one hand of the gov­ern­ment doesn’t know what the other hand is do­ing,” Christink told the Star.

Crit­ics have long called on the gov­ern­ment to re­move the ex­ist­ing ar­ray of ex­emp­tions and spe­cial rules that ex­clude some jobs from min­i­mum stan­dards, which they say leads to wide­spread con­fu­sion, com­pli­cates en­force­ment and costs work­ers up to $45 mil­lion in po­ten­tial earn­ings each week.

Christink said he agrees the ex­emp­tions should be re­moved for sim­plic­ity’s sake — and says he’s de­cided to op­er­ate as if they don’t ex­ist be­cause the rules are “very, very dif­fi­cult to in­ter­pret.”

No says the gov­ern­ment could en­act other prac­ti­cal mea­sures for more ef­fec­tive en­force­ment.

“The Min­istry of Labour has the abil­ity to is­sue fines,” he said. “They have in the past few years in­creased the use of them, but it should be con­sis­tent prac­tices. There should be in­ter­est on the un­paid wages so there’s no in­cen­tive to put off pay­ing.” The gov­ern­ment should crack down on com­pa­nies who sim­ply shut­ter and open up un­der a new name to avoid pay­ing work­ers wages owed, No said. Se­ri­ous re­peat vi­o­la­tors could also be re­quired to post a bond — money held in trust by the min­istry — to guard against fu­ture in­frac­tions, a mea­sure al­ready im­ple­mented in ju­ris­dic­tions like Cal­i­for­nia. Oth­er­wise, No ar­gues, it is work­ers who pay the price.

“They can’t pay their rent, they can’t pay their gro­ceries,” he said. “Emo­tion­ally, they feel low — they feel as though they’ve been cheated.”

“It’s kind of a case of one hand of the gov­ern­ment doesn’t know what the other hand is do­ing,” JESSE CHRISTINK BUSI­NESS OWNER

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