Mary Poppins may work for free, but Lilianne Namukasa most certainly doesn’t, and she is making her point in the Ontario Superior Court to any employer who would tell fellow nannies otherwise.
Namukasa claims that she was forced into a homeless shelter after being fired without cause, having been paid only $2,100 for two years of work. According to The Toronto Star, Namukasa is seeking $162,000 claiming breach of contract and other entitlements, plus an additional $33,000 for wrongful dismissal.
Namukasa’s wage theft may come as a shock, but sadly there are many vulnerable workers in Canada that face similar circumstances. The Workers’ Action Centre (WAC), a non-profit organization is advocating on behalf of Namukasa to raise awareness on wage theft, and to lobby for changes to Ontario’s Employment Standards Act (ESA).
Workers in Ontario are protected by the ESA for things like unpaid wages, vacation pay, minimum wage and severance. The cap for damages is $10,000 and most claims must be made a maximum of 6 months after the last day of employment.
The WAC wants this cap raised to $25,000 and the time limit extended to 3.5 years. Why? To use this case as an example, Namukasa is claiming nearly $200,000. She may not receive that much, but had she filed her claim through the Ministry of Labour, she would have been limited to $10,000. In the case of vulnerable workers who are often owed more than $10,000, this causes a disparity between protected rights and the provinces ability to enforce them in court.
Unfortunately, this issue will not be resolved by simply increasing the time limit. Last year, the Ontario government increased its number of ESA investigators in an attempt to reduce the backlog of complaints. Extending the time limit for claims would no doubt increase the backlog once more. If the government does decide to increase the cap, it will have to strengthen the support system as well, or it will have traded one inadequacy for another.