A recently released report has found that Chinese restaurant workers are being abused and exploited in the workplace. They make less than minimum wage and are deprived of overtime and vacation pay. The majority of workers were also cheated out of their statutory entitlements.
The problems seem to be widespread. According to the report, some 43% of workers surveyed earned less than minimum wage, and over half of them work over 40 hours a week, but only 11% say they’ve received overtime pay.
According to Avvy Go, director of a legal clinic in the Chinese community, the workplace abuse has been persistent and the problem has existed for over 30 years, leaving her clinic dealing with repeated complaints over the same issues of employment rights.
“Unfortunately, nothing has changed in the last 30 years,” Go told the Star in an interview.
On the surface, the report has painted a perfect picture of employers ripping-off Chinese restaurant workers. The employers – Chinese restaurant owners – steal from workers’ salaries and overtime pay, forcing them to work through vacations without compensating them. Their practices are violating Ontario’s labour laws and workers’ right.
But a restaurant in the Chinese community -- where low cost competition runs rampant-- is very difficult to survive. These restaurants constantly face tough marketing conditions and intense competition from thousands of other restaurant rivals.
It is well recognized that prices at Chinese restaurants are much cheaper than their mainstream counterparts. Chinese restaurants are forced to offer competitive prices to keep their business afloat, and as a result, their revenues are eaten away and profit margins are razor thin. Adding to the problem is the food price hike due to the plunging loonie in recent years, which poses a serious threat to their business survival.
Generally speaking, restaurant owners don’t make much, and few people get rich by owning a restaurant in Canada, let alone in the Chinese community. Restaurants that ring up $1million in sales might offer the owner only $25,000 to $40,000 in an annual salary. To make a little more than that, owners must wear multiple hats, taking over the jobs of the employees such as chefs and waiters.
Many Chinese restaurant owners make much less than their mainstream counterparts. During very difficult times, they must put themselves at the bottoms of the payees list, with some even resisting taking any salary home. Apparently, their trivial salaries are only a mere fraction of the excessive pay of CEOs of corporate Canada, who frequently lay off employees to maintain high profits.
And yet these diligent restaurant owners who are working to the bone to deliver quality Chinese cuisine at low prices while under tremendous business and financial pressure. They have created job opportunities for the economy and generated tax revenues for the government. Apparently, it is extremely difficult for many of them to afford paying employees the minimum wage that has been repeatedly raised by the government. Demanding Chinese restaurant owners to raise employees’ salary may force them to abandon the business altogether, leaving workers out of jobs and damaging the growth of the economy.
As such, stop pointing fingers at the poor Chinese restaurant owners. In fact, if you are concerned about the below-than-average pay of restaurant workers, blame it on the customers who tap into a discount culture and take advantage of the cheap but delicious dishes at the Chinese restaurants –you and I included.
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