There are probably better uses for a vacation day than driving 450 kilometres to testify at Queen’s Park on your own dime.
But Ottawa-based banquet server Michael Vorobej thinks the investment is worthwhile if it means holding tip-stealing bosses to account.
“It’s shocking what’s going on out there. There’s no shame,” he says. “I think that our industry needs to be brought out of the shadows.”
That is what’s slated to happen on Monday, when the government is expected to pass new legislation making it illegal for employers to withhold tips from workers.
The bill will also allow the Ministry of Labour to collect stolen tips as if they were unpaid wages under the Employment Standards Act.
Vorobej, who testified at a recent social policy committee hearing, has worked in the server industry since 1989. He says tip theft is a growing problem that makes it difficult for low-wage tipped workers to survive.
“It’s happening all the time,” says Vorobej. “In many restaurants you have to hand over all your tips to your manager at the end of your shift and they will determine how much you get in tips.”
Several provinces, including Quebec, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Newfoundland, already have similar legislation to protect tipped workers. In Ontario, though, the proposed law’s passage has so far been rocky: Bill 12, or the Protecting Employees’ Tips Act, has been put forward several times since 2011 but so far failed to become law.
Originally sponsored by former NDP MPP Michael Prue (Beaches-East York), the proposed Ontario bill has since been championed by Prue’s Liberal successor, Arthur Potts.
“To me it was a commitment to the community to carry on the legacy of that work,” Potts told the Star.
Bill 12, which began life as a one-line document banning employers from taking workers’ tips, initially faced stiff opposition from the restaurant industry.
The proposed legislation has since been amended to allow bosses to temporarily withhold tips if they redistribute them as part of an employee tip pool, a measure that gives some pay parity to front-of-house staff and lower-paid back-of-house workers. Managers will not be able to participate in the pool unless they are the sole owner of a company or double as servers.
The bill will also phase out collective agreement provisions that have previously allowed managers to get up to a 50 per cent share of tip pools.
In public committee hearings on Nov. 30, the head of the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association, Tony Elenis, said he was satisfied with changes, and was “absolutely in support” of the bill.
“Integrity should be part of any business,” he told the legislature’s social policy committee.
Unfortunately, Vorobej says, integrity is not always the name of the game. He says the Ottawa-area banquet hall where he works, which charges an automatic 15 per cent gratuity distributed to workers, is hemorrhaging clients to “grey operators” who charge the same rate but don’t give employees a dime.
In an industry that operates on razor-thin margins, Vorobej says cheating allows competitors to offer the same service for lower prices.
The proposed updates to the Employment Standards Act come as the Wynne government conducts a wholesale review of its employment and labour laws, which critics say no longer reflect the reality of Ontario’s increasingly precarious workplace.
Avvy Go, director of Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, said she welcomed the changes to help low-wage tipped workers but warned that the key to Bill 12’s success would be effective enforcement.
The Star has previously highlighted weak enforcement of employment standards, and the Ministry of Labour’s poor success rate on collecting stolen wages for workers.
“It will again be up to the workers to file their claims with the Ministry of Labour if their employer does not obey the law, which many workers will not be able to do until their employment comes to an end,” Go said.
“It is also difficult for employees to know how much tips they have earned during their shift.”
Enforcing the bill is key to protecting those who need it most, Vorobej added.
“There’s always going to be humble jobs in our economy. But they don’t have to be humiliating.”
Source Sara Mojtehedzadeh, The Star
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