NS: Where Wage Theft is the Law

About five years ago, before I retired as a professor at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, I made up these cards.  Just before and on the holidays, I went to the cafes, fast food places, and bars on Spring Garden Road—Halifax’s main shopping street. 

I handed this card to the staff I met.

I asked them if they knew how much they’d be paid if they worked Christmas Day, New Year’s Day or Heritage Day, which are three public (or statutory) holidays in NS.  Most told me they had no idea; they believed the boss would pay them correctly.  A few told me they were not working on the holiday, so they didn’t expect to be paid at all. 

Such is the dearth of understanding of servers’ labour rights – caused in part by the tyranny of management and also by unions’ reluctance to represent food service workers.  The  workers know little to nothing about what they are supposed to get paid.  And worse, they never ask.  More than 58% of restaurant workers are women who typically earn about 89 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn.

The server didn’t work on Christmas Day or New Year’s Day so she didn’t expect to get paid for the holiday…

The employee who said she wasn’t working Christmas had no idea that NOT working a public holiday still means you should get paid for the day off.   Another employee at a bar said she thought she would earn time and a half for work on New Year’s Day.  I told her she should expect to earn double time and a half – if she worked on Christmas Day, New Year’s Day or Heritage Day.  She was ecstatic. 

But then she was deflated – she had not worked the requisite 15 out of the last 30 days which is one of the two ‘keys’ to earning double time and a half.  The other ‘key’ is that an employee has to work the shift immediately before and immediately after the holiday.  Both ‘keys’ are necessary to earn the premium pay (double time and a half).   The deflated employee who did not work 15 out of the last 30 days, and did not work the day before and after the holiday will get paid only ‘straight time’ — that is what she normally is paid for the day. 

Starbucks on Spring Garden Rd., Halifax (credit Judy Haiven)

The person told me she didn’t work on the holiday, so she did not expect to be paid at all.  Yet servers should get paid for a day off which is a public holiday for all shouldn’t they? But in NS, she will not qualify to get paid for the day off work unless she worked 15 of the last 30 days, and the day before and the day after the holiday.  Unless she has both ‘keys’ she will not be paid for the holiday. 

As many will remember,   before COVID, bar and restaurant jobs were somewhat coveted, especially by students who were prepared to work for minimum wage plus tips.  Not so much today.  Today, nearly three years into Covid, there are more and better jobs, and work-from-home jobs available to those same students.  Almost every bar and restaurant in Halifax seems to be hiring.  Because of the shortage of staff, Halifax food service employers have finally had to offer more than the minimum wage of $13.60 per hour — $15.00-$17.00 per hour just to get reliable staff.

Employees who trust their bosses

But most employees still have no idea about their rights. The women seem to trust the bosses, though I’m sure the women probably complain about the boss  behind their back. Yet the women workers seldom ask about their own wages, or about getting paid for holidays.  They take what they get.

Today I walked into a Starbucks, the only café open on Spring Garden Road.  The clerk behind the counter was an international student.  She said she had no idea about her pay for today, Christmas Day.  She was skeptical when I told her about the double time and a half.  She told me I should speak to the boss tomorrow, when the boss would be in.  The student was one of six people I saw behind the counter today.  I wonder if any one of them knows they will likely only get paid straight time for the hours they work on Xmas Day.  They will not earn the premium pay (double time and a half)  if they didn’t work 15 of the last 30 days, and work the shift before and after the holiday. 

The counter staff  don’t know but rest assured–  the boss knows and has deliberately scheduled those who don’t qualify for premium pay.  At least one person, the boss  at the café, knows who’s getting paid what. 

Featured Image: In the Workers’ Canteen, 1963. Painting from the USSR, for more info see this.

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