Defending Your Workplace Rights in Alberta Can Be More Difficult Than It Should Be.

AuthorMcmullen, Taylor

The Workers' Resource Centre sees common scenarios where workers do not understand their rights and options, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation.

For someone experiencing legal issues in the workplace for the first time, navigating the system for information and help can be a dauting task. Legal firms may charge several hundred dollars for a consultation, legal aid clinics usually have narrow financial thresholds to meet to access their services, and the internet is full of vague and inaccurate information. Understanding your basic rights in the workplace can be even more tricky if you are new to the country, have language barriers, or do not have access to the internet.

At the Workers' Resource Centre (WRC), many new clients come to us every week with little more than a feeling that their workplace rights are being infringed upon. But they usually have no idea what their options are. The purpose of this article is to draw attention to the difficulties that everyday people can face in understanding their workplace rights and finding reliable help to explain potential options available for resolution or recourse.

When Employers Exploit Temporary Foreign Workers

One of the more unfortunate situations we see regularly at the WRC is employers exploiting their non-citizen employees, or temporary foreign workers, who are working on a closed work permit. These employees often do not ask too many questions about their workplace rights.

A typical scenario is an employer forcing these vulnerable employees to provide kickbacks to the employer from every pay cheque the employee receives. The employer may also require the employees to work overtime and general holidays without paying them properly. The employer then threatens to revoke the employees' work permits if they refuse or try to seek help.

Due to the nature of a closed work permit (meaning the employee can only work for the employer who is sponsoring them), these employees are often unwilling to stand up to their employers or to get legal help. They believe it is not worth risking their work permits as they are often desperate to earn money to support their families. Many of these workers do not receive adequate information and education on their workplace rights before starting their new jobs, which in turn leaves them highly susceptible to exploitation.

Contracting Out of Minimum Obligations

Another situation that makes it difficult for people to know about their workplace rights is...

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