FACL APC – Letter to Ontario Minister of Labour Regarding Workplace Conditions of Chinese Restaurant-Workers

Download the full letter here

July 12, 2016

Dear Minister Flynn:

Re: “Sweet & Sour: The Struggle of Chinese Restaurant-Workers”

We are writing on behalf of the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers regarding the recently released report by the Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic (MTCSALC) about the working conditions of Chinese restaurant-workers in Ontario. FACL is a diverse coalition of Asian Canadian legal professionals who promote equity, justice, and opportunity for Asian Canadian legal professionals and the broader community. We are a national organization with regional chapters across Canada.

As you are aware, the MTCSALC report indicates there are persistent and widespread violations in the Chinese restaurant industry of rights guaranteed to Ontario workers under the Employment Standards Act and Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Specifically, it found that:

  • 43% of the workers surveyed did not receive minimum wage;
  • only 11% of those surveyed who had worked overtime received overtime pay; and
  • the majority of the workers reported not receiving vacation pay and public holiday pay.

Many survey respondents also reported other workplace issues such as verbal abuse by employers, unsafe working conditions leading to workplace injuries, and interference by the employer in the workers’ pursuit of WSIB claims and other legal entitlements.

The report also documents the failure of the legal system to protect these vulnerable workers. It was particularly troubling to see that:

  • only about 20% of workers surveyed had filed a complaint with the Ministry of Labour; and
  • of those who have gone through the claim process, less than 10% had recovered their owed wages.

The report contains 16 recommendations from MTCSALC, in addition to a number of recommendations made by the workers themselves. The report also refers to the 68 recommendations contained in a similar report that was completed almost 30 years ago concerning Chinese restaurant workers. Sadly, very little has changed over the last three decades.

While the MTCSALC report focused on Chinese restaurant workers, FACL is deeply concerned that the experiences of these respondents are reflective of the challenges facing all vulnerable workers in Ontario. Accordingly, we call on the Ministry of Labour to implement the recommendations contained in this report. In particular, we ask the Ministry to develop effective strategies in outreach and education among workers (recommendation #13) as well as employers — especially those in linguistic minority communities — in order to ensure that they know their employment standards obligations and have the information, help, and support to meet those obligations.

We urge the Government of Ontario to work with community organizations and workers’ rights advocacy groups to dedicate the appropriate resources to strengthen the systems and processes that are in place to protect workers in this province. FACL is willing and available to meet with you and your officials to discuss meaningful ways to address these concerns, and we look forward to hearing from you.

Yours truly,


Gerald Chan

Co-Chair, Advocacy & Policy Committee


Phil Tsui

Co-Chair, Advocacy & Policy Committee




10th Anniversary of Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act Redress – June 22, 2016 – Proclamation and Roundtable


Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, Chinese Canadian National Council – TO Chapter, Mayor John Tory, and Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam invite you to…

10th Anniversary of Chinese Head Tax and Exclusion Act Redress

Redress Day Proclamation and Roundtable Discussion

Date: June 22, 2016

Location: Toronto City Hall, 100 Queen St W, Toronto, ON

Time: 4:30 pm to 6:00 pm

4:30 pm – Proclamation of June 22nd as Chinese Head Tax & Exclusion Act Redress Day by Mayor John Tory at the Peace Garden in Nathan Phillips Square

5:00 pm – Community Roundtable Discussion in Meeting Room B, 2nd Floor of City Hall

Join us to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Chinese Head Tax & Exclusion Acts Redress Campaign and to reflect on the historical contribution and sacrifices of Chinese Canadians in building our nation.

Mayor John Tory will proclaim June 22nd as Chinese Head Tax & Exclusion Act Redress Day. A Community Roundtable will follow to discuss the Redress Campaign, its historical roots, and how we can learn from its lessons moving forward.

RSVP: mcsalegalclinic@gmail.com

Study Finds Rampant Workplace Exploitation Among Chinese Restaurant Workers

April 25, 2016

The Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic (MTCSALC) today released the report, “Sweet & Sour: The Struggle of Chinese Restaurant-workers”. The report is based on the results of a survey of over 180 workers of Chinese descent and their work experience in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) restaurant industry between 2013 and 2016. The survey found widespread and persistent violations of workers’ rights under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA) and the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1990 (OHSA).

To review the full report, please click here:


Read the Toronto Star article here:


The MTCSALC survey found a significant number of Chinese restaurant-workers were paid less than minimum wage, and were routinely denied overtime pay, holiday pay and vacation pay. Many workers reported they were owed wages by employers, often in the range of several thousand dollars. Among those who lost their jobs, the majority were denied notice or pay in lieu of notice. Payroll violations were reported to be widespread and persistent. Not giving workers a payroll slip, under-reporting work hours in payroll slips and employer records, and not making statutory payments are among the typical payroll violations reported by workers.

Workers also reported routine violations of the OHSA at their workplaces, ranging from lack of appropriate employer response to workplace accidents and injuries, use of intimidation and threats to prevent workers from filing a Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) claim, and use of delay tactics and false records to deny workers access to the full WSIB entitlement.

MTCSALC is troubled by the findings with respect to accessing the Ministry of Labour (MOL) complaints or claims process showing that the system is not capable of addressing the present worker realities. The findings also show the process is characterized by systemic barriers that deny access to most workers. Many workers reported that they did not have confidence in MOL, and many did not file a complaint or claim. Workers reported problems such as the lengthy time taken to process a claim, and not receiving the full monies owed by the employer nor a partial amount even if the claim was successful. Equally troubling is the practice of putting the onus on the worker to prove all the details of a claim, and providing advance notice of a workplace inspection thus giving employers time to hide evidence of ESA and OHSA violations.

“Precarious employment is on the rise in the Ontario labour market. Recent immigrants, those with uncertain and precarious immigration status, racialized persons and women are far more vulnerable to employer exploitation and abuse. We know that many of our clients are reluctant to file a complaint with the Ministry of Labour when their rights are violated. But we did not expect the problems to be so widespread and the workers’ confidence with the Ministry of Labour to be so lacking,” said Avvy Go, Clinic Director of Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic. “This report is an urgent call to action. We hope it will compel the Government of Ontario to step up and revamp the legal system to protect workers’ rights in this province,” Go added.

The report endorses the 62 recommendations in the 1988 report of the Chinese Restaurant Workers Advisory Committee. It recommends the adoption of a “wish-list” of changes suggested by workers to improve their working conditions. The report also puts forward an additional 16 recommendations to the Government of Ontario and other relevant institutions. The MTCSALC recommendations include:

  • That the Ministry of Labour develop and implement a long-term strategy in consultation with workers and community agencies that assist workers, to address employment standards violations in the restaurant industry. Proactive inspection at restaurants should be adopted as a key component of the enforcement system, to support the claim-based investigation on individual cases;
  • That the Ministry of Labour coordinate restaurant inspections with Canada Revenue Agency in order to target restaurant owners who submit improper or even fraudulent payroll tax deductions;
  • That the Ministry of Labour set up a third-party complaint mechanism to allow workers to report ESA violations to a third party such as a community-based agency and to follow up with inspection and necessary enforcement;
  • That the Ministry of Labour require all restaurants to post an up to-date work schedule for all the workers in the workplace and in a place where all workers can see it, similar to the requirement to post the Employment Standards Poster.
  • That the Provincial Government re-establish the Wage Protection Fund to compensate workers for their unpaid wages and the statutory termination and severance pay.
  • That the Ministry of Labour increase the “administrative fees” for each ESA claim to an amount equivalent to at least 30% of the amount owed to the worker; and
  • That the Ministry of Labour develop Occupational Health and Safety training materials in Chinese (and other languages most commonly spoken by immigrants in Ontario).

Despite their vulnerability and the pervasive fear in speaking out, 184 courageous workers participated in the study. Whether the study participants represent the experience of a small number of Ontario Chinese restaurant workers, or whether their experience is symptomatic of a larger problem, the voices of these workers deserve to be heard and their search for fair treatment deserves the public support.