DAMIR MOLLNAR AND MICHAEL NARVERY WANT THEIR MONEY. The two men worked at Senova, an upscale Italian restaurant in Vancouver, for a total of 13 years. They want the money they earned but never got during all those years.
Damir Mollnar worked at Senova, an upscale Italian restaurant in Vancouver, as a server for over seven years. Michael Narvey, his colleague, was employed on and off for almost six years between 2013 and 2019. Both men are in the middle of a determined fight to secure a combined total of $13,000 in unpaid wages and tips.
“If you go and you work really hard for someone you deserve to be paid, to be rewarded for what you are giving,” said Damir, who is claiming $8,500 in outstanding payments. But he added that for a long time, he avoided raising a complaint, because he feared that as an older worker, he wouldn’t be able to find another serving job.
The two men have filed their claims with the British Columbia Employment Standards Branch, which is responsible for examining allegations of unpaid wages and tips by employers. But they are not likely to get quick action.
Eric Nordal of the Retail Action Network, an advocacy group for workers, says it could take up to a year for the workers to recover their money. Nordal rightly criticized this delay as “unacceptable.” “We’ve seen a lot of these with smaller businesses,” added Nordal. “At the end of the day, there’s a business number and somebody’s writing the cheque…that person can be named and is responsible.”
According to Michael Narvey, whose claim is for $4,500, the branch took two months just to acknowledge receiving his complaint. “I just know things like this are happening to other places,” says Michael. “I think something really needs to be done.”
The Retail Action Network is also highly critical of the overall laxness of the Employment Standards Branch. For example, Nordal points out that workers have collected barely a third of the $23 million of judgments in their favour between 2013 and 2017.
The branch has since hired an extra 20 employees, including four in debt collection. But this is hardly likely to resolve the problem.
Earlier this year, the BC government introduced changes to the Employment Standards Act that increase the length of time workers have to claim unpaid wages from six months to a year. But if the Employment Standards Branch remains too weak to enforce debt collection this change won’t do much to help workers quickly recover their wages.
A widespread problem
The experience of employees at the Brew Street pub in Port Moody shows how common the problem of unpaid wages really is.
Three former employees say that the pub’s owner, David James, failed to pay $6,800 in wages and tips when Brew Street closed down in January. The Employment Standards Branch reportedly received around six complaints about Brew Street between December 2018 and April 2019.
Sydney Iverson, worked as a server at the pub, before being promoted to general manager. She explained how her pay cheques bounced five times. She also noted that she was forced to buy items for the pub on her credit card when they ran out of supplies.
“Every time it’s another excuse,” Sydney said of her attempts to recover her money. “We put so many hours in and then you just treat us like this?” added Jaden Rudland, who worked in the kitchen. “It’s a smack to the face.”
Tori Stone hasn’t filed her claim yet, but believes she’s owed up to $2,000. “People shouldn’t have to fight for their money,” she said. ”You have a right to be paid for the work you do.”
Retail Action Network takes action
The Retail Action Network organizes workers to show solidarity to anyone confronting a problem with their employer. That can include unpaid wages, the confiscation of tips, or even unfair dismissals.
On the issue of unpaid tips, the Network wants to see legal changes adopted to strengthen workers’ rights. One of the main things that needs to change is for the province’s Employment Standards Act to include a section dealing with tips and gratuities.
The Network wants an addition to the Act, which would state explicitly that tips “are the property of the employee to whom or for whom they are given.” The proposal also contains a passage stating that employees “shall not be required to share a tip with an employer, a manager or supervisor.”
When it comes to unpaid wages, the Network has organized direct action campaigns to pressure employers into getting their house in order. After Wild Coffee in Victoria, BC, failed to pay an employee the wages they were due, a sustained pressure campaign by Retail Action Network members forced the business to do the right thing.
A win for Damir Mollnar and Michael Narvery will be doubly important. It will ensure that these two workers get the pay they worked for; and, it will add to the pressure on other bosses failing to live up to their most basic commitment: paying workers fairly and on time.
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