DAVID DOOREY WANTS TO LOCK UP BAD BOSSES. The associate professor of Work Law and Industrial Relations at York University says it just might get them to treat their employees better. Nothing else seems to.
Every province has laws to protect workers and punish bad bosses. But these laws do little to stop people like Peter Check who just flat out refused to pay his 68 employees. He set up companies in Ontario, hired young employees, and didn’t pay them. He did this for years and got away with it.
The Ministry of Labour in Ontario tried to get Check to pay up for two years. In the end the cheated workers got four cents on the dollar for what they were owed.
Labour law breakers seldom pursued or punished
These kinds of things happen over and over and over again. Breaking labour laws is just business as usual for far too many Canadian employers. They do it because they can get away with it. They get away with it because there is little desire, or ability, to rigorously enforce the employment standards laws on the books.
Improved enforcement would change this. But that’s not likely anywhere, anytime soon. Take Ontario for example: the new Progressive Conservative government has junked commitments made by the previous Wynne government to hire up to 175 new employment standards officers and step up enforcement.
The Wynne legislation was to include increased penalties for employers that violate the law, streamlined collection methods and the ability of the ministry to impose interest on money owed to workers. The law also would have let the government publish the names of employers who break the rules.
All that is gone now.
Improvements to labour protections rolled back
Instead, the Ontario Ministry of Labour has instructed staff not to initiate any new proactive inspections aimed at preventing wage theft and other employment standards violations. The ministry will also defer inspection and prosecution training for staff who have not yet received it.
Another way to improve worker protections is to impose fines or penalties on businesses, or permit enforcement against bosses personally. Both of those powers already exist under the ESA (Employment Standards Act) in Ontario, but they don’t seem to be helping the government very much deal with bad employers like Peter Check.
Throw bad bosses into jail
“Another option is to throw bad employers who refuse to comply with the ESA into jail as criminals and give them a criminal record,” writes Professor Doorey in a post on his Law of Work website. “I like that one.
“I’m not talking about the employer who makes a mistake, and when ordered to pay, does so. I’m talking about employers who deliberately violate the ESA and arrange their affairs so as to avoid satisfying their legal obligations.”
“In fact, the power to imprison rogue employers already exists, in Section 132. Unfortunately, it isn’t used nearly enough, I think because we treat ‘white collar crime’ too leniently in this country.
“I would use criminal sanctions more often to punish employers who flagrantly violate employment legislation. And I would go further and restrict those convicted of violating the ESA from registering new companies or acting as an officer of a corporation in the future. “
Doorey also favours public notification of labour law violators as “high risk employers.”
“Also, I would require employers convicted for ESA violations ... to disclose to all future job applicants that the company has been convicted previously of violating employee protections legislation.
“That would give the employees the opportunity to look elsewhere, to take precautions, or to ‘bargain’ a higher wage rate to offset the added risks.
“We allow employers to ask employees to disclose if they have been convicted of a criminal offence so employers can refuse to hire them. ... We should also require employers to disclose when they have been found guilty of violating employee protection legislation. That’s only fair, right?”
Professor Doorey makes a strong case for what could be done, and should be done, to bring more fairness to the relationship between workers and their bosses. Whether it ever will be done depends, as always, on the determination and will of working folks to act together to get the fair shake they are too often denied—even when the law is on their side.
This article was originally published by The Canadian Labour Institute.
Reprinted with permission for CALM Members use.