On Wednesday, January 11th, the BC Employment Standards Coalition, in collaboration with the Victoria Retail Action Network, will bring its workers’ story forums to Victoria. These bad job story forums began in Vancouver in October last year when a series of six all-day open forms were held at various locations throughout metro Vancouver.
At these forums workers are given the opportunity to talk about their bad job experiences to demonstrate the widespread abuses of workers employed in precarious jobs, and the inadequacies of the Employment Standards Act and/or its enforcement by the Employment Standards Branch. The Employment Standards Branch is the provincial government agency that has the responsibility to investigate workers complaints and to enforce the Employment Standards Act.
The Employment Standards Act is supposed to provide all workers with the same basic minimum workplace rights and protections, including minimum wages, regulated hours of work and overtime, statutory holidays and vacations with pay, leaves of absence, termination of employment rights, etc.. However, 15 years ago those basic rights were considerably reduced and the system of enforcement cut back and changed for the benefit of employers.
In the meantime jobs for a growing number of workers have become increasingly precarious, low paid, exploitative, and without basic rights. This growing precariousness of employment has been widely recognized across Canada. In BC the inadequacies of employment standards has contributed to this trend. In 2015 the government of Ontario established a commission of inquiry into the adequacy of labour and employment laws to counter the growth of precarious employment. The final report of its Changing Workplaces Review Panel will be released soon.
In the spring of 2016 the Vancouver Island Public Interest Research Group and the Retail Action Network published a research report on the experiences of precariously employed workers in the retail, food service and hospitality industries in Victoria, and the inadequacies of the Employment Standards Act to care for the needs and interests of workers in these industries.
Numerous submissions by diverse organizations have been made to the BC provincial government calling for improvement and expansion of the Employment Standards Act and its enforcement. Such organizations have included anti-poverty, child welfare, union, migrant worker, community legal services and employment law advocacy groups, and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. However, these submissions appear to have fallen on deaf ears as the government has stated it has no intention of changing employment standards for the foreseeable future.
One respected non-governmental organization, the BC Law Institute, has undertaken on its own initiative a review of the Employment Standards Act by its legal staff with a view to modernizing the employment rights of workers. However, there are weaknesses in this review. Its resources are inadequate, it has a narrow legal focus, the government is not involved, and there is no inquiry into the bad job experiences of individual workers. The BC Employment Standards Coalition is therefore giving workers with bad job experiences the opportunity to tell their stories through participation in its workers’ story forums. These stories will then be compiled into a report to both the BC Law Institute and the government in support of changes to employment standards.
The Victoria workers’ story forum on January 11th 2017 will be held at the Victoria Event Centre (1415 Broad Street) from 12:00 noon to 9:00 p.m.
Written by David Fairey, who is a Co-Chair of the BC Employment Standards Coalition, a Labour Economist, a Labour Relations Specialist, and a research associate of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – BC