Martha Jaramillo is a member of the Workers’ Action Centre. She came to us in the spring of 2014 when her wages went unpaid and she was fired. WAC helped Martha file a claim with the Ministry of Labour and, in October 2014, the Ministry issued an order to pay instructing her boss to pay her almost $4,000.
But months went by and she never received her money. Martha became active in WAC’s campaign demanding changes to the Employment Standards Act and stronger enforcement. She spoke to the Toronto Star and testified at the first public consultation for the Ontario government’s labour law review about how weak enforcement sends the message to employers that they can get away with breaking the law.
On September 1, Martha finally got her cheque in the mail. This is her story.
“I want to share my success story with other workers. If WAC had not encouraged me to speak up and fight for my money, I would not have had the confidence to try.
My boss was very abusive, and when I tried to stick up for myself, he would say, “If you keep asking about your rights, you will never find another job. People don’t like troublemakers.” He told me that the laws here couldn’t protect me. He would brag that workers can’t afford lawyers, but he could.
Then, in March 2014, he refused to pay me my wages and tried to lie about it. I told him I would go to the Ministry of Labour, so he fired me. I decided to file a claim, and someone told me to go to WAC for help. When I first came to WAC, I was trembling with fear. My whole body was shaking. Not only did they help me with my claim, they helped me not feel scared, to have the courage to stand up for myself.
I had to wait 1 year and 5 months to get my money, 11 months from the time the Ministry of Labour ordered my boss to pay me. I am happy that the Ministry of Labour got my money, and I hope they will do this for the thousands of other workers who are still waiting. But I had to wait a long time for my money, and I had to rely on my credit cards to survive. I had to pay interest on those credit cards – why didn’t my boss have to pay interest on the money he owed me? If employers had to pay interest on the money they owed workers, they might think twice before stealing our wages. We shouldn’t pay for employers who break the law, they should.
Through WAC, I got to talk about my case in the Toronto Star. I want to thank the reporter, Sara Mojtehedzadeh, for helping to bring the public’s attention to all the problems that workers face in Ontario. WAC supported me to testify at the government’s labour law review. I think these things made a difference in getting my money – I know that so many people wait even longer than me, and many don’t ever get their money.
I want other workers to know that it is possible to stand up for ourselves. I did not have my permanent residency in Canada when I started this process, and my English was not good. I want other people in that situation to have the courage to stand up too. We can make the law better by speaking out, by showing that it’s not doing enough to protect workers and demanding change. We may not have a union, but we have the Workers’ Action Centre and that’s something we can count on.”