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Wage theft prosecutions declining in Ontario as 'suffering' workers request meeting with Labour Minister

Advocates protest against wage theft (Credit: Naujawan Support Network). Advocates protest against wage theft (Credit: Naujawan Support Network).

An Ontario group of immigrant workers and international students is asking to meet with the province’s Minister of Labour to discuss what it calls a problem of “rampant wage theft.”

The request comes as new data reveals a steep drop in the number of employment standards prosecutions by the Ministry of Labour with an increase in millions of dollars in wages going uncollected from employers.

Naujawan Support Network (NSN) wrote a letter to Minister Monte McNaughton saying it wants to stop exploitation and abuse and that for years people have been suffering financially, emotionally and psychologically.

“Many are depressed and some have even died by suicide to escape the pain. We do not want to see any more of our people suffer or die,” the letter sent on May 17 stated.

The new data obtained through freedom of information requests on behalf of Downtown Legal Services and Parkdale Community Legal Services were shared with NSN and CTV News Toronto. They show the number of employment standards prosecutions dropped from 79 in the 2017-2018 fiscal year to two in the 2020-2021 fiscal year. Prosecutions increased to 12 in the 2021-2021 fiscal year.

Over the same period the ‘amount in dollars of orders to pay deemed uncollectable’ increased. During the 2017-2018 fiscal year $6,332,697 was deemed uncollectable, while in 2020-21 $11,492,655 was uncollectable. The amount dipped again when prosecutions increased in 2021–2022 to $8,763,290.

“We were not expecting this,” said Gurjeet Singh, a member with NSN for two years. “We believed in the Ministry of Labour that they were doing a good job.”

Singh said NSN wrote the letter because over the years the group realized the problem around wages in the GTA, especially Brampton, is much bigger than they imagined. They want a chance to ask questions about the number of prosecutions happening, and find a way to increase them.

“The ministry only prosecuted two employers in the year 2021. That’s a big question. Why?”

Downtown Legal Services told CTV News Toronto workers trying to recoup wages is a constant theme at its clinic and orders to pay can only be applied to employees as defined in the employment standards act. That means orders to pay does not include lost wages among gig workers and independent contractors. The clinic said these workers have no choice but to fight for their lost wages in small claims court, which can be a lengthy and cumbersome process.

In the letter, NSN states employers who avoid paying have an attitude toward the ministry that it’s weak and ineffective when it comes to enforcing and prosecuting orders.

“Some employers are so carefree toward the Ministry that they mockingly encourage their workers to file Employment Standards claims, believing they will never face serious consequences even if those claims are successful,“ the letter said.

“[Employers] know the loopholes,” Singh said, who works in the trades, adding he has endured his own issues of being significantly underpaid.

According to the ministry, the number of investigations completed by ministry officials and the number of orders to pay are directly connected to the number of Employment Standard claims filed. Adding, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the ministry received a historically low number of claims. The volume of claims filed is expected to trend towards pre-pandemic levels this fiscal year.


“Employees are entitled to be paid for the work that they do and we investigate any and every claim for unpaid wages,” said a statement from the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development to CTV News Toronto.

The Ministry said it has over 200 employment standards enforcement positions, including officers who investigate claims and inspect proactively and has recovered more than $110 million in wages and other money owed to employees over the last five fiscal years.

The Ministry said to protect vulnerable workers and their pay, the government has introduced legislation requiring recruiters and temporary help agencies to have a licence to operate in the province.

“As part of the licensing application process, they will be required to submit a $25,000 security that can be used to repay workers for illegal fees or wages owed.”

Another part of the legislation is a labour trafficking unit that the Ministry said, is actively working with police around the province.

NSN requested the Minister’s office reply to the letter about a meeting by June 1.

The minister’s office tells CTV News Toronto it is in contact with NSN and plans to meet with them.

Singh said NSN is looking forward to a meeting and explaining issues further, so prosecutions can increase.


If an employer does not apply for a review or comply with an order to pay within the timeframe set out, the order is forwarded to the Ministry of Finance for collection of any unpaid amount.

“The MOF does make every effort to recover amounts owed to claimants under the Employment Standards Act once the account is referred to MOF for collections,” said the Ministry of Finance in a statement to CTV News Toronto.

“Collections efforts involve letters and telephone calls to seek voluntary compliance from employers.”

“If the employer does not pay, or fails to honour the agreed upon payment schedule, the Ministry may take legal actions to collect monies owing.”

Since June 2021, NSN said it has recovered $323,209 in wages for 74 members of the organization, through confronting employers directly, letter deliveries, protests, boycotts, and social media campaigns.

Singh said NSN is busy working with hundreds of people to try and help them get money they’re owed.

“We want to fight for those wages. These are hard earned wages, and we won’t let it go.“ Top Stories


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