British Columbia

Victoria retail workers subject to precarious, and sometimes illegal, work conditions: study

A study from the Vancouver Island Public Interest Research Group says retail, food service, and hospitality workers are subject to poor work conditions, some of which break the law.

Study looked at retail, food service, and hospitality workers in Victoria

The customer is always right? A new study by the Vancouver Island Public Interest Research Group says retail, food service, and hospitality workers in Victoria are often subject to abuse from customers, which may be sexually or racially charged. (wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock)

Exploited and disrespected.

That's how workers are feeling in Victoria's retail, food service, and hospitality sectors, according to a new study by the Vancouver Island Public Interest Research Group

The reports highlights how the workers face low wages in combination with irregular scheduling, involuntary part-time hours and the expectation of being constantly available. 

"They're precarious workplace conditions," report author Stefanie Hardman told All Points West host Robyn Burns. 

"They make it difficult for a worker to afford the cost of living in Victoria and there's no job stability or security in that, and no benefits."

Hardman's research looked at a variety of businesses: cafes, hotels, coffee shops, mall stores, and found many examples of precarious work conditions.

The employers ranged from large corporations to mom-and-pop outfits, but that made little difference, she said.

She heard stories of employers who did the bare minimum under the Employment Standards Act, and also of some employers who did not live up to their legal obligations.

"The B.C. minimum wage was increased in September 2015, and we found some instances of workplaces paying the old minimum wage," she said, adding workers also told her of being asked to come in early or stay late without pay.

Also troubling were reports of racism and harassment from customers — which employees are expected to simply endure.

"[Customers] could take it out on workers in very aggressive and abusive ways. We did hear of sexual harassment, racism, other forms of verbal abuse," she said. "Workers reported not really being sure how to respond in that situation — feeling unsafe, but feeling their employer didn't provide them any support."

Hardman says these incidents often happen in isolation and to lone individuals, which speaks to the need for employers to provide better support and protection for their workers.

With files from CBC Radio One's All Points West

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Illegal wages, dodgy scheduling, customer abuse plague Victoria retail workers