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Wage theft is most common complaint of B.C. workers: advocacy group

Abusive workplaces, punishing schedules and even child labour are also a problem in B.C., says group calling for changes to provincial law.

A construction worker on the job.

Metro file

A construction worker on the job.

You might love your job. You might hate it. But you probably expect to get paid for the work you do.

A new report from a labour rights advocacy groups finds that wage theft is the most common complaint B.C. workers have about their bosses.

“We found there is such widespread violation of the (Employment Standards) Act, particularly with what we called wage theft, which can be improper pay for a variety of reasons,” said David Fairey, co-chair of the BC Employment Standards Coalition.

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“It was the most common complaint that we heard: people not being paid overtime, not being paid an appropriate rate of pay, not being paid their commission on time.”

The coalition recently called for workers to come forward to tell their stories and has now published an initial report based on what they heard from 145 participants. Wage theft featured in 89 of those accounts.

Other problems that came to light included abusive workplaces, punishing, unpredictable schedules and children under 15 being injured on the job.

The British Columbia Law Institute is set to review B.C.’s Employment Standards Act. The last time the act was reviewed, 24 years ago, public consultations were held, giving workers the chance to speak to a government commission, Fairey said.

This time around the Law Institute has a contract from government to conduct a review, but lacks the resources to hold public consultations. Fairey is hoping the Law Institute will take into account the information the coalition has gathered.

The stories Fairey's group collected included Carol, a single mother of three who complained that while working at Tim Hortons, she had to be at work by 3:40 a.m. in order to complete all the duties expected of her, but she was not paid for the work done between her actual start time and 4:45 a.m.

Michael told his story of being fired from a temp agency after starting an employment standards complaint about not being allowed to go on vacation after 27 months on the job. Workers in the tech industry and live-in caregiving spoke about being denied overtime pay because the act excludes their professions from rules that govern other jobs.

The report also includes the stories of three children under the age of 15 who were injured while working on construction site, with animals and at an auto salvage company. B.C.’s employment laws were relaxed in 2003 to eliminate the need for an employer to get a permit — and have their workplace inspected by the Employment Standards Branch — before hiring children between the ages of 12 and 14.

Employees being misclassified as self-employed workers is another problem the coalition has identified: those workers can then be denied benefits or deductions like Employment Insurance.

Fairey said the process to complain to the Employment Standards Branch is onerous for workers, and can be a risk because they must first make their complaint known to the employer — putting them at risk of being fired.

“Our Employment Standards legislation is so out of date and so riddled with exclusions and rules which exclude people from rights,” Fairey said. “It violates the principle that there are minimum standards of employment for everyone.”

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