The owner of a pool company that owes thousands of dollars of unpaid wages to former student lifeguards has been sentenced to 90 days in jail and fined $15,000.
According to a 2009 Toronto Star expose, Peter Check hired student lifeguards each summer and then failed to pay their last months’ wages. When students complained, he would close the business and open up again under a new name for the next season.
The young workers made complaints to the Ministry of Labour in 2007 and 2008 and the Ministry ordered the employer to pay over $63,000 in unpaid wages. When the employer still didn’t pay, the Ministry of Labour took him to court.
Peter Check was convicted on April 8 of failing to comply with the Ministry of Labour’s orders. In addition to the sentence of 90 days in jail and a $15,000 fine, the employer was ordered to pay the outstanding wages still owed to workers. The Ministry of Labour reports that $55,000 is still owing to the 68 students who made complaints.
Prosecuting employers who do not pay workers’ wages is an important way for the Ministry of Labour to demonstrate that there can be serious consequences for breaking the law and this case sets another valuable precedent.
Unfortunately, very few employers have ever gone to jail for employment standards violations, despite widespread examples of wage theft in Ontario.
Like many other examples we have seen at WAC, this employer broke the law again and again. For most employers, there is no cost to breaking the law and very little risk of getting caught. In 2009-2010, less than 0.5% of employers faced a fine after workers complained about a violation. Fines for employers currently start at a $250. In the same year, the Ministry of Labour initiated only 13 prosecutions of employers.
We raised these issues at our recent meeting with new Minister of Labour Yasir Naqvi. WAC members told Mr. Naqvi that a $250 fine is simply not high enough to make employers think twice about breaking the law. We asked Minister Naqvi to immediately increase fines for employers who break the law. We asked that the Ministry of Labour make it mandatory for all employers to face a fine when there is a confirmed violation.
WAC members described working in companies that repeatedly violate the law and asked that Minister Naqvi make sure the Ministry of Labour prosecute all employers who don’t follow orders to pay or have repeat violations. We also asked that the Ministry publicize all employers who have been ordered to pay wages on their website.
What would Mr. Naqvi say to the young workers who after 5-6 years of waiting, are still owed a collective $55,000 in unpaid wages? We’d like to hear him say that he is taking immediate steps to make sure other young workers have better protection in the future – and then see concrete action from the Ministry to implement tougher penalties for all employers when they break the law.
Find out more about more about our Stop Wage Theft campaign and how to get involved here.