Workers' group calls for greater enforcement of wage theft

Toronto businessman owing $290,00 in wages faces more claims

Workers' group calls for greater enforcement of wage theft

A businessman in Toronto continues to face claims of wage theft and government orders to pay employees even though he still owes workers a total of about $290,000 unpaid wages. 

This is a problem, according to one worker group.

"The biggest issue here is a lack of deterrence to employers,” said Deena Ladd, executive director of the Workers' Action Centre in Toronto, according to a CBC report.

Employer owes at least $290,000 in unpaid wages: CBC

Ladd is referring to Toronto businessman Anchuan Jiang, who continues to face new claims of wage theft and government orders to pay employees. He’s been doing that since he and some of his companies were charged for not complying with Ontario Ministry of Labour orders to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in wages in 2019, according to the report.

Jiang and one of his companies were fined a combined $100,000 in provincial court after he and the company pled guilty to some of those charges under the Employment Standards Act (ESA) in 2021.

Despite the conviction, Jiang still owes at least $290,000 in unpaid wages.

He has also received 18 more orders to pay wages against one of his private schools totalling nearly $184,000, and is facing at least two more claims for unpaid wages since December 2023 from former employees of another private school he owns, reported CBC.

Roughly $9 million – that’s the amount of workers’ wages that employers failed to pay back in the 2021-22 fiscal year, according to data from the Ontario Ministry of Finance.

System of dealing with unpaid wages ‘has to change’

The system allows business owners to run their business "predicated on wage theft,” said Ladd in the report. It also leaves employees waiting for unpaid wages for years, she said.

Overall, the system is problematic, she said.

"You can stop an employer from being able to get a mortgage, from being able to get a driver's licence, a liquor licence, any of the licences that businesses need to operate," she said.

"There's more consequences for me if I don't pay my parking tickets than there are for employers who are not paying their workers their wages.”

Jiang, in an email to CBC, said that Ontario College and his other private schools "diligently" process monthly wages for current and laid-off teachers and staff in line with their employment agreements.

"Despite encountering a few cases of labour disputes related to fulfilling contractual obligations by certain staff and teachers, we are committed to timely wage processing," he said, according to CBC.

A remote worker who worked full-time for an employer and who wasn’t allowed to perform other work was an employee entitled to unpaid wages and not an independent contractor, the Ontario Labour Relations Board ruled in a case in 2023.

Should there be changes to the Employment Standards Act?

The Ministry of Labour did not directly comment on if it has plans to strengthen ESA enforcement and whether any changes might include denying a business owner various licences, according to the report.

The ministry "takes the enforcement of employment standards very seriously and uses every avenue available to pursue the recovery of assessed amounts to ensure that workers have what they are owed,” said spokesperson Anu Dhar.

The ministry has recovered more than $100 million in wages and other money owed to workers over the last five years, said Dhar. However, the statement did not say how much of the overall wages and other money owed to workers that $100 million accounted for, according to the report.

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