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Know Your Rights as a Worker in Canada

Moving to a new country is a difficult thing to do. We have to learn new customs, rules and even words (c’mon Canada, who even calls soda a “pop”?). Adjusting to this new life could take a while and for some people might even take years. The first months are always chaotic. On top of our school’s schedule, getting to know the city, and trying to build a social life, we’re also on a mission to get a job that pays the bills. And this can take a while since Vancouver is far from cheap.

But with so many things to worry about, we might be forgetting something that is crucial in a free and democratic society: our rights.

There are people with bad intentions everywhere, and the hard truth is, lots of places try to take advantage of immigrants, a category that includes us as international students. Someone that is new to the country is less likely to be aware of their rights, and some businesses prey on this. And although we may not be Canadian citizens, we still have rights. To get you started on this topic, here are three things to know that can prevent bad experiences as a newcomer.

Minimum wage, Overtime and Holidays

Let’s start with the basics: As of June 1, 2023, the minimum wage in BC is $16.75 per hour. You can be paid more, but you can never be paid less.

There are exceptions, but as a rule of thumb, if we work more than 8 hours a day, we should be paid extra. For most workers, if we exceed 8 hours of work in a single day, we are entitled to receive one and a half times our regular pay for each additional hour worked for the following 4 hours. If we exceed 12 hours of work in a single day, we should receive twice our regular pay for each hour worked beyond the 12-hour threshold. The same goes for weekly overtime, if we exceed 40 hours in a week, we should be compensated accordingly.

In terms of deductions, besides the ones required by law (like income tax, EI, CPP), an employer is not allowed to subtract any business expenses from an employee's wages. Examples of such expenses include cash shortages, breakages, damage to company property, or losses incurred when a customer fails to pay.

Once we have been with an employer for 90 days, we also have a right to 5 days of paid sick leave a year. We highly encourage everyone to visit BC’s government website to check the eligibility for this.

What about holidays? Well, there’s something called statutory holidays. These are days off dictated by the government and usually mean we get a long weekend. However, if you have to work during that day, you are entitled to special overtime wages. This means that you will get paid 1.5 times your salary (“time and a half”) for every hour your work plus an average day’s pay if you have to work that day. As an example, if you make $20/hour and typically work for 8 hours, that day you will be entitled to a regular day’s pay plus “time and a half” for every hour worked that day, i.e., $160 + ($30/hour x # of hours) instead.

If we think that our current or past employer may have broken any of these laws, we can file a complaint to the Employment Standards Branch (ESB) in person, or online, up to 6 months after the incident. We only need the complaint form and some form of record of working hours (like pay cheques, wage statements, and daily time records). We can contact the ESB through their website, calling 1-833-236-2700 or going to any of the 10 branch offices.

Combating Sexual Harassment in the workplace

Sexual harassment is more common than you think and here’s a quick guide on how to identify it. It’s a form of discrimination that involves unwanted or non-consensual actions that are:

of a sexual nature

based on a person's gender

that have a negative impact on the workplace

This type of harassment can be based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. According to an Angus Reid study in 2018, while 52% of Canadian women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace at least once in their lives, it is a problem that affects anyone and is confirmed by Statistics Canada. According to their 2021 study, 25% of women and 17% of men reported sexual harassment within the previous year.

Unwanted touching (again, consent), offensive jokes of sexual character, staring and making comments about a person’s body, showing sexual pictures, spreading sexual rumors, actions or comments about someone not fitting sex-role stereotypes and being verbally abusive because of gender, are some examples of sexual harassment in the workplace.

We can always tell the person doing these acts to stop, but of course that can be intimidating, so we can also have the option to speak with human resources or a manager, and we can seek legal advice in case everything else fails.

The important thing to remember is to keep a record of everything, we need to write down what happened, what was said, who was present, where we were, date and time of the incident. We can also take screenshots if the actions happened over chat. A neat tip is to send ourselves all this information through text or email so we can have a precise date and time.

We have many legal options to help us combat sexual harassment, we can file a complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal; make a report to the WorkSafeBC prevention line, file a civil lawsuit or a police report. We recommend you to google all of these options to have more information about them.

Different forms of discrimination

Is not uncommon to hear stories about discrimination. We may face discrimination from indigenous identity, age, race, color, ancestry, place of origin, political affiliation, religion, marital status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and/or unrelated criminal convictions. All of these are personal characteristics protected under the BC Human Rights code.

If we think we are being discriminated against based on one of these characteristics, we can file a complaint to the BC Human Rights Tribunal. And don’t worry, they have systems to protect us against retaliation. Take into account that the BC Human Rights code applies to everyone who is in British Columbia, independently of immigration status.

For assistance with filing Human Rights Complaints, we can go to the BC Human Rights Clinic or the Migrant Worker’s Centre.

Other resources available

With regard to sexual harassment, the Migrant Workers Centre's Respect at Work Legal Clinic personnel offers free legal help to newcomers who have experienced this at work. You can be eligible for their services if you are: a migrant worker, undocumented individual, refugee and refugee claimant, permanent resident, naturalized citizen, or international student. For service providers and immigrant communities all around the province of British Columbia, MWC also offers sexual harassment training.

The non-profit Migrant Workers Centre was founded in 1986 with the goal of providing legal advocacy for migrant workers in British Columbia. By offering free legal education, MWC helps migrant workers access justice, counsel and complete representation. MWC also strives to achieve equitable immigration policy and enhanced labor standards through legislation and policy reform and test case litigation.

What else would you like to know about protecting your rights? Join our Slack channel and let us know.

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