Truck drivers are continuing to confront employers over unpaid wages, taking to the streets in the Region of Peel, Ont. with their supporters.
Driver Amrish Dutta said an Ontario-based company withheld his wages while the pandemic was raging. The father of two, who lives in Brampton, said the issue was resolved through third-party mediation as well as community peer pressure.
“Every driver and owner-operator should ensure they review their employment contract,” said Dutta who now works for a different fleet and is happy with the way he is being treated and paid. “This should be an essential exercise similar to a pre-trip inspection before joining any fleet.”
People gathered outside a company’s office in a peaceful protest on Oct. 30, said Nahar Aujla, a social activist. He said the employer sent employees out, and they started abusing and heckling the protesters. He said loud music was also played to drown out the protesters.
Aujla said a truck began moving toward the protesters and claims that people were close to being run over. Videos circulating on social media show police officers removing an individual from the vehicle, surrounded by protesters.
Constable Himmet Gill, Peel Regional Police, says that he is aware of the protests about unpaid wages.
“They were raising awareness about the issue they faced. They were respectful to police officers that showed up and they let them know why they were protesting,” Gill said.
He said the protesters were not harassing anybody and they have freedom of speech. “They were not being a nuisance,” he said.
Aujla said protesters subsequently held a meeting with the employer, who agreed to pay the drivers a percentage of what was owed.
Road Today reported an incident in July, where a trucker along with his supporters protested outside the home of an employer, claiming he was owed more than $5,000 in wages.
Driver Dutta says employees and employers need to communicate to avoid misunderstandings and company owners should ensure there is a suitable mechanism in place to address concerns in a fair and timely manner.
“There is no room for threats or violence. The workplace should be cordial and adhere to labour law,” he said.
Aujla says some employers force drivers to open their companies. “This is misclassification. They are employees, they don’t own trucks or trailers or have a right to fix their work hours. They get a pay cheque in the name of the company they set up.”
The social activist says he educates drivers about not opening their incorporated companies. He said newcomers to the industry and the country sometimes don’t have a choice. Employers don’t mention this in writing but encourage them to open companies. “Then they don’t have to pay if a driver gets sick or injured,” Aujla said.
Cst. Gill said since the issue is about unpaid wages, it is a civil matter and not a criminal one. The police force educates employees about their rights and responsibilities. “We let them know about getting into business and knowing your right as an employee,” he said.
Aujla said some smaller companies hire new or less experienced drivers, and when they have an accident, insurance premiums skyrocket. They pass the cost of the premiums on to the drivers, he said.
He also said some companies deduct the cost of fuel when drivers keep their vehicles running to stay warm in the winter or cool in the summer.
The trucking industry is facing a shortage of drivers, and Dutta feels the protests will add to the problem. He said the outcry over unpaid wages discourages newcomers from joining the profession. He said people should be aware of the problems they may face before they join the industry. He suggests the MELT program should include classes on employment and labor law, with real-life examples of problems and solutions.
Social media posts being circulated within the Punjabi trucking community are awash with pictures and videos of protests. Some name and shame individuals and companies. Another protest is planned in the first week of December. This issue is not going away anytime soon.
By Leo Barros