TRYING TO DO GOOD DOESN’T LET YOU OFF THE HOOK. A group of seven baristas used that argument to make, and win, their case for pay owed them by the owners of the Nook Espresso Bar in Bedford, NS.
The Nook closed down without warning in late July. The owners gave no notice at all to their seven baristas. The owners did try to do the right thing by their workers but got it wrong.
The pay they offered to the workers in lieu of notice was not calculated correctly. “This left several of the baristas without the notice pay they were legally entitled to,”says Shannon Power, one of the a barista’s at The Nook.
The group of seven female baristas challenged their notice payments in an email to the owners. The owners replied by email, and then made the dispute very public with a long post on Facebook.
‘Charity’ should begin at work
In their Facebook post the Nook owners played up the charitable work that they do in the community such as, a food token system to support poor people and posters promoting kindness and acceptance. But this friendly and charitable approach did not reflect their employment practices, says Shannon.
Nook owners “charity” was to encourage customers to buy tokens to give away to “poor people” to redeem at their business
“They used the cafe’s small business status to garner sympathy from customers,” says Shannon. “They also tried to discredit any future attempts made by the staff to expose the cafe’s conduct by calling it defamation.”
Many of the baristas were only earning a minimum wage of $11.55 per hour, which is almost $8 less than the $20 per hour that is considered to be a living wage for the city of Halifax. “If you are a business that is trying to promote an ethical image, you don’t just do the bare minimum,” Shannon says.
Big, little victory
The baristas won in the end. They got help from the new Halifax Worker’s Action Centre to make their case with NS Labour Board. The board worked with the Nook owners to calculate, and then pay, the correct amounts to their former workers.
Shannon says she is all for any effort to improve educating workers about their rights. But she says enforcing and improving workers rights would be even better: "As long as workers’ rights remain so poor, legal education alone isn’t sufficient. The basic employment standards in the province need to improve.”
Labour Standards in Nova Scotia fall far below those of most other provinces in Canada. Having employers understand and comply with this weak legislation should not be an unreasonable expectation. Yet, it is.
Application and enforcement of labour laws should never be left to workers alone, particularly low-wage earners who are vulnerable to abuse and unfair treatment, and who never have the money it takes to pursue employers through the courts.
The Halifax-Workers Action Centre is a not-for-profit committed to improving the lives and working conditions of low-waged and marginalized workers.
firstname.lastname@example.org • https://www.facebook.com/thenookhfx/photos/a.601750293202280/1721608971… (902) 221-0755 • www.halifaxworkersaction.ca
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