The Workers’ Action Centre is launching the Problems at Work Survey to help us better understand how employer violations of labour laws are impacting Ontario Workers.
When we think of wage theft, we normally only think about unpaid wages. However, wage theft is much broader. It includes situations where the employer is not counting all the hours we worked, where we are not paid overtime or denied rightful benefits such as vacation pay and public holiday pay. Wage theft occurs when we are paid less than the legal minimum wage or when employers misclassify us as independent contractors instead of employees. It also involves illegal deductions from our wages.
TAKE THE SURVEY
This is a confidential survey that takes about 25 minutes to complete.
It is also available in Bengali, Chinese, Somali, Spanish and Tamil.
Thousands of workers come to the Workers’ Action Centre each year reporting wage theft. This is a common experience for low-wage and precarious workers employed through temp agencies, or who work in casual or part-time jobs, but it also happens to higher income earners and those working at big companies, like some national banks.
At WAC, workers support each other to win back their hard earned wages. We do this by showing employers that workers are not alone, and that their wage theft will not go unchallenged. In the past six months alone, we’ve been able to help workers collect almost $100,000 in unpaid wages. Unfortunately, that’s only a fraction of the total wages that workers have reported stolen in that same time period.
One of the biggest issues we face is that employers know that there is a pretty good chance that they can get away with not paying their workers their full entitlements.
We know from Freedom of Information requests that between 2020 and 2022, Ontario workers filed more than 8,400 successful Employment Standards Act wage theft claims. The Ministry of Labour found the workers were owed more than $36 million for rights such as unpaid overtime, vacation, public holiday, minimum wage, and termination pay. By the end of 2022, however, internal government records show that the Ministry of Labour collection efforts had only recovered about 40 percent of that money (about $13 million). As explained in a recent Toronto Star article, the Ministry of Labour says that those numbers are not accurate and they collected more than that, but it has not provided enough information about its enforcement practices to really understand which of its enforcement powers are being used, and how effective they are at getting workers their full entitlements.
The more government orders to pay go unenforced, the more it builds employers’ confidence to break the law. Even when workers do get their unpaid wages back, it can often take months or years to collect their money. When you’re trying to pay rent and make ends meet, that’s time that most of us do not have.
Our movement has won amazing things in the past decade. But those gains don’t mean as much when our rights under the law are not being enforced.
WAC is launching this survey so that workers can tell their own story about how problems at work impact their lives. The more we know about wage theft, the more we can develop effective strategies to protect our hard-earned wages. You can help. By taking the survey, your insights will help us develop effective strategies for stronger labour laws, improved enforcement, and enhanced worker protections.
Together, we can build a movement for decent work and ensure that workers actually get paid all the wages they are owed for the hard work they do.