A Victoria legal advocacy group for the poor will now have a full-time staff member dedicated to helping low-income, non-unionized workers navigate labour disputes.
“Right now, we assist people in disputes with the government over income assistance, and tenants with landlords, but there has always been a need to assist workers with employers,” said Stephen Portman, legal advocate with Together Against Poverty Society.
The non-profit organization has partnered with the United Way and a coalition of labour unions to fund the Employment Rights and Education Project. They have invested more than $50,000 in the program that will support vulnerable workers.
Portman said this includes new immigrants and young people who are not always aware of labour standards, as well as those with literacy issues.
“One of the most poignant cases is that of foreign workers,” he said. “Someone who came to this country, told they were going to get $15 an hour, to arrive and find out it’s $14. They might be afraid if they complain, they’ll lose their job and have to leave.”
Other examples of labour issues include employers who say they don’t pay overtime or statutory holidays, or who let workers go for debatable reasons, Portman said.
He said the goal of the new TAPS program is to help workers resolve issues with employers and file official complaints only if needed.
“There are very few places for people to turn for help,” said Michael Eso, president of the Victoria Labour Council.
He said that since the Employment Standards Branch has gone through cutbacks and instituted a self-help process for employees, there has been a gap in workforce advocacy.
“There are challenges across the board, especially for young people looking for solid jobs, which is why something like this [program] is good,” he said.