News / Toronto

Serving up restaurant workers' rights -- from unpaid overtime to unsafe conditions

A new bill could improve conditions for restaurant employees who often work long and stressful hours for relatively low pay.

Poutine joint Poutini's recently saw its employees walk out in protest of unsafe working conditions.

Marcus Oleniuk / Torstar News Service Order this photo

Poutine joint Poutini's recently saw its employees walk out in protest of unsafe working conditions.

Restaurant employees often work long and stressful hours for relatively little money. In a competitive industry they can be exploited, too. Following employee backlash at Poutini's and Susur Lee's restaurants over the past week, Metro takes a look at worker rights and one possible solution:

Unpaid overtime: A chronic problem in the competitive restaurant industry, especially for kitchen staff who come in early to do unpaid prep work. Deena Ladd, a co-ordinator at the labour advocacy non-profit Workers Action Centre, notes that all employees should be paid overtime for service above 44 hours per week.

Unsafe working conditions: Workers at Poutini's publicly complained about conditions at the poutine joint, including the absence of oven mitts. "No job is worth putting your health at risk," says Ladd. She notes it's difficult to file complaints though, as most workers fear they will lose their jobs.

Tip deductions: Despite what's alleged to have been common practice at Susur Lee's restaurants, Ontario law prohibits restaurants from deducting tips due to workplace incidents. That means if a server accidentally breaks a plate or is the victim of a dine-and-dash, they aren't required to give the workplace an IOU, even if they signed an agreement saying so.

Advanced notice for shift changes: If a restaurant isn't busy, the manager can cancel an employee's shift without compensation on very short notice. That could change with Bill 148, which is under consideration at Queen's Park. Under the new legislation, employees would be paid for a minimum of three hours work for cancelled shifts.

Sick days: Ontario employers are not required to provide paid sick days, which means restaurant workers often have an incentive to work through illness. Bill 148 could help change that too, and provide two paid sick days per year.

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