Know and Defend Your Labour Rights

I lived and worked for a number of years in Asia and specifically in China. While there I experienced first hand the awful state of labour rights and human rights.

I worked at an English training school. My Chinese colleagues were paid a pittance, 1500-2000RMB per month. Around 150-200USD during that time. They would work 12 hour shifts, 6 days a week. Sometimes they were forced to go in on their only day off for training or team building exercises.

They sat in small hot office, cubicles no larger than half a metre wide. They would be forced to change diapers of the boss´s baby, and some of the younger students as well. The teachers were from different provinces in China and they were promised living accommodations in addition to their salaries. Living accommodations amounted to 6 teachers sharing a small apartment, two per bed.

And this was a job to be sought! Migrant labourers in China are often robbed by greedy construction bosses and left in distant provinces with no working rights, no money and no options.

All of this shocked and disgusted me and I left China.

I would like to note at this time I love and admire many Chinese people. I love their delicious food, I pondered their philosophies and meditated in their temples. This article is not meant as an attack on China or Chinese people. My issue is with Labour Rights internationally.

Which is why I was surprised when I returned to live in Hamilton Ontario, and find that many people were forgetting Canadian labour law.

I returned to Hamilton in 2015 and began working for an international school.

During that time I saw both management and Human Resources attempt to bend the law and lean on employees to wave their legal rights.

Human Resources no longer (if they ever did) works for the employee. They are instead a buffer to allow managers and owners to behave however they want.

The college was a 24 hour operation, and myself and an older gentleman had Monday-Tuesday as our weekend. However with many holidays falling on the Monday, we rarely received a three day weekend.We were compensated instead and paid holiday pay. But my colleague, being a man of leisure, reckoned that he was being cheated out of holiday days. He approached HR about Replacement Holidays and he was rejected. He decided to then research the ESA website and found that yes, legally he was entitled to his choice of either a replacement holiday, or holiday pay.

He forward this information to HR, highlighting specifically:

                  “A substitute holiday is another working day off work that is designated to replace a public holiday. Employees are entitled to be paid public holiday pay for a substitute holiday. A substitute holiday must be scheduled for a day that is no later than three months after the public holiday for which it was earned, or, if the employee has agreed in writing, the substitute day off can be scheduled up to 12 months after the public holiday.”

After not hearing anything for two weeks, his replacement holiday request was quietly accepted.

Now my colleague was a veteran of the Canadian labour force. Serving in the steel industry for three decades. He had battled in union negotiations and seen the labour industry fight for years to obtain these rights. He knew there was blood lost to obtain these rights and he felt it his duty to both use his rights, and educate others on their rights.

So here are several common ways employers attempt to bypass Labour Law.

Minimum Shift/ 3 hour rule. 

Employers, especially in retail and hospitality, will often overstaff in expectation of a busy period. Usually if employers see that they are overstaffed they will send people home. Your employer must pay you a minimum of three hours for any shift you turn up to, regardless of if you worked three hours.

“When an employee who regularly works more than three hours a day is required to                 report to work but works less than three hours, he or she must be paid whichever                   of the following amounts is the highest:                                                                                                   three hours at the minimum wage,
               or the employee’s regular wage for the time worked.”

Unpaid Training:

Unpaid training is illegal. Pure and simple. The best way to fight unpaid training is to refuse it. I understand “times are hard” and “a job is a job” but allowing employers to use unpaid training, and willfully allowing employers to use you for free labour is detrimental to labour law.  If everyone refuses to participate in unpaid training then it will become an outdated barbaric idea.


In certain industries understaffing can be illegal. In healthcare, education and security there are minimum staff requirements that must be met. In many industries, employers will understaff and stress their remaining staff to overexert themselves trying to compensate for  the missing people. By refusing to become stressed, or to work harder than you can (especially for that 11.25$) you can force employers to either have an inefficient organization or to properly fund their staff. By allowing them to force you to do two jobs you are not proving to them you are a capable employee. You are proving that they can abuse workers rights, and create a job atmosphere that everyone is replaceable.

There are many more examples I could name and I encourage you to educate yourself, or reach out to myself or anyone else involved in labour law.

By allowing employers to work you like a dog you add to the current job culture that accepts low wages, low security, and little respect. We all fight for the scraps- these entry level jobs. However were you to fully exert your rights as an employee, and not be over worked or bullied into submission. Your employer would be forced to hire, train and treat other employees how you demand to be treated.

We need each other now.



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