Truckers in Canada are fighting to claim part of an estimated $9 million in wages that has been withheld from them by various employers in recent years while calling on the federal government to do more to help fight against carriers that operate the scheme known as Driver Inc.

A group called Justice for Truck Drivers held a rally outside Toronto’s federal labor program office on July 8 to bring attention to wage theft in the trucking industry. Justice for Truck Drivers includes 42 people who said collectively they are owed more than $300,000 in unpaid wages from several different carriers. 

“I did not get my first paycheck until three months after I started working,” said Manjinder Singh, one of the drivers who spoke at the rally. Singh eventually left his trucking job in 2021 and said he is still owed more than $10,000 in unpaid wages from his former employer. 

The money Singh and other members of Justice for Truck Drivers said they are owed is part of approximately $9 million in unpaid wages that companies in the Canadian province of Ontario failed to pay out to employees in the 2021-22 fiscal year, according to data from Canada’s Ministry of Labour.

The data was obtained through freedom of information requests by two Toronto-based organizations — Downtown Legal Services and Parkdale Community Legal Services, according to CBC News.

The majority of companies listed as owing unpaid wages to workers from the 2021-22 fiscal year are primarily operators in the transportation and logistics spaces.

Workers advocates said wage theft is an exploitative practice that is getting worse across the trucking and logistics industries, particularly for immigrants working as drivers in the country.

Navi Aujla, executive director of Brampton, Canada-based Labour Community Services of Peel, said hundreds of drivers have come to her organization in recent years seeking help with recovering money they are owed by carriers.

“The majority of cases that come to us regarding wage theft or anything else, the driver has been misclassified by their employer,” Aujla told FreightWaves. “When there’s misclassification, employees aren’t getting their full rights, employers are taking part in practices that would never be acceptable when someone is an employee.”

In Canada, misclassifying truck drivers as independent contractors is known throughout the trucking industry as Driver Inc. — a business model involving a carrier telling a driver who does not own a truck to register as a corporation and sell its driving services to the company.

Using the Driver Inc. model, carriers can avoid paying taxes and benefits to workers, while also often disregarding labor laws by withholding wages and payments to drivers.

In May, several major trucking industry groups — including the Canadian Trucking Alliance, Teamsters Canada and Quebec Trucking Association — held a joint news conference asking the government to crack down on carriers using the Driver Inc. model.

“The key issue here is about fairness and assuring that all play by the same rules so that no one employer is able to have an unfair advantage over another,” John McCann, the national freight and tank haul director for Teamsters Canada, said during the news conference. “It’s about assuring that a vulnerable labor force is not taken advantage of simply because they just want an opportunity to work and support their families.”

On July 22, Labour Community Services of Peel and Justice for Truck Drivers held a town hall meeting in Brampton to discuss everything from wage theft to illegal deductions, harassment and unsafe working conditions in the trucking industry.

Justice for Truck Drivers includes 42 people who said collectively they are owed more than $300,000 in unpaid wages from several different carriers. The organization participated in a town hall meeting July 22. (Photo: Labour Community Services of Peel)

Aujla said that while truck drivers only make up about 17% of federally regulated workers, they account for 85% of claims for unpaid wages filed with the Ministry of Labour.

“It became clear that the problems are rooted at a systemic level,” Aujla said. “This was not one or two drivers and it was not one or two bad employers, it was hundreds.”

Labour Community Services of Peel, founded in 1979, is an organization that helps residents with employment-related issues. The region of Peel, located near the Toronto area, is located in Ontario, a province in east-central Canada that borders the U.S. Peel is considered by many to be the heart of the trucking industry in the region. 

“Another big reason we are seeing so much wage theft is that in Canada, trucking is one of the jobs or industries where workers can have access to permanent resident status through the LMIA (Labour Market Impact Assessment) process,” Aujla said. “There’s so many loopholes and ways for employers to exploit workers through the immigration policy system. It creates a lot of opportunities for exploitation and wage theft when employees or drivers are so dependent on an employer to be able to access permanent resident status.”

Canada’s federal Labour Program (similar to the U.S. Department of Labor) is an organization meant to help workers dispute payment issues with their employers without having to hire lawyers or go to small claims court. 

Aujla said authorities need to enforce wage payment orders with more strictness and enact harsher penalties for companies that don’t pay up.

“The main thing that we’re really trying to push the government on is the lack of enforcement and consequences for employers who break the law,” Aujla said. “We’re seeing that even where drivers are filing so many claims in the Labour Program … there’s a huge wait time for the claims to be processed.”

Aujla said when a company finally does receive a payment order from the Labour Program, there’s not much enforcement from the federal government. 

“If the employer doesn’t voluntarily pay what they owe the worker, what the company does is they’ll then send the payment order to federal court, which now the worker is waiting more than a year or more for their money and you get back a certificate, which the worker has to take on themselves to hire a lawyer or private investigator to try to track down these employers’ assets or different things like that,” Aujla said.

“Employers that are breaking the law, especially repeat violators, are not facing any real consequences. We’ve had companies that have had several claims filed against them from different workers over the same span of time, and we haven’t really seen anything other than maybe a little administrative fine.”

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