B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains (Tom Fletcher/Black Press Media)

B.C. government adds staff to field worker pay complaints

'Self-help kit' a barrier to migrant workers, Harry Bains says

The B.C. government is adding 60 staff to help workers with their allegations of workplace mistreatment, eliminating the “self-help kit” that required workers to document their own hours and pay, Labour Minister Harry Bains says.

Migrant workers and new immigrants have a particularly hard time with the paperwork involved in an application to the Employment Standards Branch, and no one should have to deal directly with their employer after they have been short-changed on their pay, Bains said Wednesday.

The B.C. Liberal government introduced the self-help kit in 2003 and since then, the number of worker complaints has fallen from 11,000 a year to 6,000, Bains told a group of migrant worker supporters in Surrey.

The current B.C. budget includes an additional $15 million for additional staff, and 27 people have been hired so far to get the branch to “investigate in a real-time fashion” when employment standards may be violated, Bains said.

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Saleem Spindari, manager for refugees and migrant worker programs at Mosaic, a charity assisting new arrivals to B.C., said his staff frequently deal with self-help kit applications for migrant workers.

Gathering documents and calculating lost wages can take experienced staff more than three hours, and it’s unlikely that a migrant worker without language skills would be able to do it, Spindari said.

B.C. Liberal labour critic John Martin said while the opposition has difficulty with some parts of the NDP government’s overhaul of labour and employment laws, he agrees with eliminating the self-help kit.

“The consensus was it’s a good move,” Martin said. “None of the people I talked to were really in favour of them.”

Bains said the majority of employers in B.C. are honest with their employee dealings, but a few “bad apples” get an advantage over those who follow the rules without adequate enforcement of labour standards.


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