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Local Subway franchise gets 'Bad Boss' award

Would you like an illegal wage reduction with that sandwich?

A Vancouver businessman who owns three Subway restaurants has been granted a "Bad Boss Award" by an organization of young workers linked to the BC Federation of Labour.

According to a release from the Federation's Employee Action Rights Network (EARN) issued today, Anil Dhawan, owner of Subway franchises on the city's affluent west side, requires his employees to sign a form renouncing their legal right to premium pay when they work overtime.

The Tyee has learned that the Employment Standards Branch of the Ministry of Labour will respond to the Federation complaint by launching an investigation. However, it is not clear how aggressively the investigation will be pursued; a Ministry spokesperson described the goal as "getting the employer's side of the story."

The Employee Action Rights Network charges that Dhawan, who owns and operates three Subway franchises at Oakridge shopping centre, on Arbutus and on West Boulevard, calls on his employees to sign a form that reads: "I, __________, understand that for any hours worked past 8 hours per day, I am entitled to overtime pay. However, I acknowledge and agree to waive any overtime wages due to my request to work additional hours per week. I hereby request additional work hours per week without any overtime pay."

Mr. Dhawan did not respond to The Tyee's requests for comment.

"We are asking the Ministry of Labour to launch an immediate investigation into Mr. Dhawan's operations and ensure workers receive the full wages they are owed," said EARN spokesperson Stephen Von Sychowski.

Von Sychowski, who also chairs the Federation's Young Workers Committee, says that Dhawan's employees, fearing retaliation if they identify themselves in a complaint, have asked for anonymity. Therefore, he said, an investigation by the Ministry of Labour was necessary.

"Today there are not enough resources for workers to determine whether or not they have received the appropriate compensation for their overtime hours worked," Von Sychowski said.

"Too many basic employment standards have been watered down while too few workers are even aware of their rights. This is especially true for new workers in the labour force, young people, and recent immigrants."

David Greer, a media spokesman for the Ministry of Labour, told The Tyee that the BC Fed's press release had led to a decision that Employment Standards Branch staff would contact Mr. Dhawan and "get his side of the story." Greer said the investigation could lead to the employer being required to pay the employees for wages lost due to the alleged overtime arrangements. In addition, he said, the Branch could impose fines of $500 for a first offense by the employer, $2,500 for a second offense and $10,000 for a third.

Calling the alleged Dhawan overtime practice a form of "wage theft," Von Sychowski told The Tyee that his organization believes the practice of denying workers overtime pay is widespread. He said a survey is being prepared to gather evidence about wage theft in B.C. and expressed hope that the Ministry of Labour would take prompt action to prevent more vulnerable workers being cheated of wages due them.

Tom Sandborn covers labour and health policy stories for The Tyee. He welcomes your feedback and story tips at [email protected].

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