Justice Delayed is
As workers, we know that things like wage theft, discrimination, and unfair working standards are too common. We have little power when fighting back against workplace injustices individually. When workers file a complaint with the branch, it does not stop the problem from happening again. Bad bosses continue to break the law with little consequences. Read on to find out how workers in B.C. are organizing against unfair working conditions, and how YOU can take action!
In B.C., the institution for workers to turn to when facing individual injustices is the Employment Standards Branch (ESB). Unfortunately, the ESB has historically been underfunded, understaffed, and unable to provide sufficient training to its investigators. Workers have faced excessive wait times trying to obtain justice – from six months up to three years in some cases. Workers have faced barriers in trying to receive justice: from suppression of complaints to employer bias in branch practice and procedures, to procedural unfairness in complaint investigation and adjudication. The failures of the ESB are having immense ramifications on workers’ lives.
As a worker, you may have never needed the Branch. But there are thousands of workers who have and if the day comes and you too face wage theft, you deserve to know the Branch will be in your corner.
Workers deserve an Employment Standards process that is accessible, fair, accommodating, and that understands and applies the law correctly when they are faced with wage theft and other rights violations at the hands of their employer. Workers deserve an Employment Standards Branch that works for them.
Recognizing the shortcomings of the Branch, the Worker Solidarity Network launched the Justice Delayed is Justice Denied campaign to win funding necessary to make the Branch work for workers. On February 2023, as a result of tireless organizing by workers under the Justice Delayed is Justice Denied campaign banner, the provincial government pledged $12 Million dollars to put towards the Employment Standards Branch. Together, we need to ensure that the allocated $12 million dollars supports fighting against wage theft, combating unfair working practices, and ensuring justice for workers.
$12 million dollars won by workers, for workers! This is how we win:
But we cannot stop there.
We want to ensure that this $12 million is going to be used correctly and be put towards ensuring the Employment Standards Branch is Accessible, Correct, Fair, Accommodating and Effective. We also know that a better branch is just the first step to support workers when facing wage theft, discrimination, and unfair working conditions in the province. To truly put an end of workplace injustices, workers need to come together and stand up against unfair labour practices together.
We cannot end wage theft and all the other ills of precarious work by tackling wage theft and discrimination individually when it happens. What we need is organized workers. To organize workers, we need real wins that improve working conditions to show what collective power can do.
By fighting for and winning a better branch, we can bring countless workers like you together and show our power. Justice Denied is just the first step. The more power we build through this campaign, the greater things we can achieve.
Join the movement. Organize. Win for a better branch. Build worker power.
Read on to see our vision of a Employment Standards Branch that works for workers.
In order to function in its role, the Employment Standards Branch needs to address the different methods that complaint suppression occurs to ensure it is accessible. Steps towards removing barriers are in-person access to ESB staff and offices, convenient hours of operation such as outside of the normal 9-5 working day, access to assistance, an anti-oppressive approach during investigation and a significantly easier process for workers to file ESB complaints.
The role of the BC Employment Standards Branch is to ensure fairness and that the minimum working standards are met within an employee and employer relationship.
One of the Act’s purposes is to apply a fair and efficient procedure for resolving disputes. There is a fundamental duty of procedural fairness when investigators are resolving disputes which includes a fair process, impartial bias and the right to be heard.
Steps towards adequate procedural fairness are to outline the expected timeline for each process during an investigation, increase communication between workers and the ESB during an investigation, cease selectively favoring employers, reach a judgment only when all evidence has been reviewed, provide oral hearings when requested, perform complete payroll audits when there is evidence of systemic employer violations and provide proper training to investigators.
To be an effective instrument of justice for wronged workers, the Employment Standards Branch needs to ensure its process and remedies are correctly applied across the board. Investigators need to apply the law and the ESA correctly, and the ESA needs to ensure investigators are sufficiently trained and knowledgeable.
Unlawful practices such as investigators giving legal advice need to be ended. To ensure correctness of outcome, robust investigations need to be conducted before conclusions, in order to ensure the law is applied correctly.
Additionally, workers should not be pressured to settle during a complaint process before a robust and thorough investigation takes place. Moving away from relying on settlements would ensure workers do not receive less wages than they are owed.
In order to function in its role the Employment Standards Branch needs to recognize that the precarious and marginalized workers that it serves have differing needs; and to provide proper justice it needs to meet workers where they are at. This would include specific accommodations for workers as the need arises – these accommodations should include, for instance, providing translators and accepting testimony in different languages.
Accommodations for workers would serve to not only make the process of pursuing justice as straightforward as possible; but also serve to address invisible barriers and systemic discrimination faced by workers. Steps to make the ESB accommodating would ensure that workers are not fighting a two-pronged fight against unlawful employers as well as systemic biases and discrimination rising from the ESB complaint process.
The Employment Standards Branch needs to operate effectively not only to provide justice to workers currently owed justice and wages; but also to dissuade employers from breaking the law in the first place. The first step to ensuring the existence of an effective ESB is to collect and disburse all monies owed to workers. Correct and proper remedies need to be applied, with shorter wait times for workers to ensure the efficient operation of the ESB. Per the Branch’s own mandate, investigations need to be conducted within 90 days of the receipt of the complaint. The current long wait times dissuade many workers from completing their complaint process; and even for those who begin the process, too many drop out. Penalties for law-breaking employers need to be higher as well, to dissuade employers from breaking the law in the first place. The ESB also needs to resume proactive investigation of problematic sectors and workplaces to ensure that unlawful employers and repeat offenders are caught. These three major steps would ensure the ESB is an effective institution and deterrent against lawbreaking employers. All of the above would put an end to branch-wide austerity measures.