Non-profit agency cheats resident workers out of minimum wage

...Alas, we
Who wished to lay the foundations of kindness
Could not ourselves be kind.
— Bertolt Brecht

DO GOODERS JUST CAN’T FIGURE IT OUT. Why are those they want to help often so goddamn difficult? Why can’t they just accept that do gooders always know what’s best for them? Bert Wolding knows why.

Bert got cheated out of $2,599 in pay by the very people that were supposed to be looking out for him.

$20 a shift

Bert lives in a 127-unit supportive housing building in Victoria, BC operated by PHS, a Vancouver-based non-profit agency.

Bert did food preparation and cleaning work there for four years. He got a $20 cash honorarium for every day he worked.

Bert, 66, moved into building in 2016 after living in a tent city on the lawn of Victoria’s provincial courthouse. The province paid $11.2 million to buy the former care home to house people who had been living in the camp.

PHS managers asked Bert if he would would like to help out in the kitchen. He said yes.

(BC Housing supports non-profits using “peer staffing” to help people gain work experience and re-enter the labour market, but the agency expects organizations to pay peers the same as any other employee.)

Nothing casual about it

Bert put in regular three-hour shifts to help prepare and serve the evening meal to the other residents, from Monday to Friday between 2017 and 2020. He worked on some statutory holidays, and said he was expected to train other tenants.

“It was serious—it wasn’t really casual,” Bert told The Tyee.  “We were depended upon. And if we weren’t able to be there, we were required to provide a replacement who knew what they were doing.”

But Bert and other tenants were not paid the minimum wage. They were just paid a $20-a-day cash honorarium—far less than what they would have made if they had been paid minimum wage.

“How do they justify taking advantage of us like this?”, asks Bert. The very people that they’re being contracted to provide supportive housing to.

Complaint filed

Bert decided to file a complaint with the Employment Standards Branch to try to recover the money; he also printed off complaint applications and handed them out to residents who had also been working around the building. He said several of his neighbours have also filed complaints.

An Employment Standards Branch officer calculated that Bert was owed $2,599.

Bert still wants to know why it took complaints from impoverished tenants to change the situation at PHS.

PHS has committed to paying $2,599 to Bert.

Not done yet

Bert said he would not accept the $2,600 because he believes he should be paid the same wage as PHS Community Service’s unionized employees, who make between $26 and $28 an hour.

“They make good money, with all the benefits,” Bert said. “We got our $20-a-day cash, and it didn’t matter if it was a stat holiday—there was no extra money, and no time off.”

The Employment Standards Branch says it has received five complaints against PHS since 2016. Three of the complaints are still being investigated, one has been resolved with a settlement agreement and one has been withdrawn.

PHS also employs peer workers in overdose prevention sites, and some of those workers recently won their right  to join the union that represents other PHS workers.

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