Legislation provides a false front for tribunals

When I first moved to Vancouver in my twenties, I was looking for any type of job to pay the rent. The first one to come along was offering samplings of ciabatta bread at Costco. I admit the bread was delicious. However, the problem was the owner of the bakery promoting the bread.

I was among six women who filed a complaint with Employment Standards BC about his failure to pay. It took over a year for the case manager to investigate our claim. To this day, I don’t know what she was investigating. The guy pretty much admitted that he didn’t pay us. His excuse was that we didn’t provide some sort of time sheet, which I actually had provided to him. Even if I had not provided it, the legislation is quite adamant that not filing a piece of paperwork cannot be used as an excuse not to pay. Why was the investigator not able to wrap this up in a week with six claimants and an employer that admitted guilt? That remains a mystery to this day.

In any case, after more than a year, I had moved back to Ontario and received a letter stating that the employer had no assets so we would never receive our pay. Not only that, the investigator argued that it had been a really long time since the event had occurred so he shouldn’t have to pay up anyway.

I find it highly unlikely that someone could open a bakery and sign a contract with Costco without any assets. He’d have to have tens of thousands just burning a hole in his pocket or he’d have to have applied for a loan citing his assets.

Secondly, if he couldn’t afford to pay his creditors, he should have had to declare bankruptcy. Why was the BC government helping this creep stay in business when he can’t even pay his employees?

Thirdly, how can the government possibly rationalize blaming the delay on the claimants, when it was the investigator who didn’t perform her job in a timely manner?

My point in bringing this up is to demonstrate that a lot of the legislation that is passed to protect workers offers nothing more than a false front. People believe the law is there and most people, out of human decency, won’t do anything to breach it. But the reality is the law is not on the side of the worker and it’s a mere fluke when the minimal standards are actually enforced by the administrative tribunals that have been put in place to uphold the legislation.

Although I admit to being the type of person to blame this sort of thing on neo-liberalism, in this case, the government was NDP at the time and BC was still known as a leftist province across the land. Really the problem comes down to apathetic bureaucrats. It’s far easier to blame the employees than the employer, even when the employer is clearly in the wrong.

What needs to change is an acceptance of the fact that the employer is not always in the right and there are a lot of poorly run organizations out there. We’d all be better off if these laws were enforced. If administrative tribunals are not going to uphold the laws, governments should be looking at the type of people they are posting to these positions and making sure that they know the legislation is enacted for a reason.

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