International student wins $16K in unpaid wages after going public with labour fight

An international student in Brampton, Ont., has won more than $16,000 in unpaid wages after going public with her labour battle with the operators of a local restaurant.

Restaurant settled dispute after investigation began, Ontario Minister of Labour says

Satinder Kaur Grewal joins a protest outside her former employer's restaurant, Chat Hut, in December 2021. Grewal has since been paid more than $16,000 in wages the company owed her. (Submitted by the Naujawan Support Network)

An international student in Brampton has won more than $16,000 in unpaid wages after going public with her labour dispute with the operators of a local restaurant.

CBC News first reported on 22-year-old Satinder Kaur Grewal's fight with her former employer, Chat Hut, last December when she filed a complaint with the Ontario Ministry of Labour. Grewal said the restaurant's owners paid her in cash, violated overtime rules and stole some $18,000 worth of wages over a six-month span, leaving her broke and severely depressed. 

"Winning my wages has completely changed my life," Grewal told CBC News in an email. "When I worked at Chat Hut, it was very depressing for me because I gave my whole life to them," she said.

The ministry says it began looking into the case on Dec. 23 and found her complaint was valid. But during its investigation, the ministry confirmed Chat Hut had decided to settle the dispute and paid her the $16,495.29 she was owed.

"I learned that when bad things happen in your life, you have to stand up and raise your voice," Grewal said.

Chat Hut's management declined to comment on the initial story and did not provide any further comment to CBC News on its settlement with Grewal. 

She is one of many international students who are attracted to Brampton due to its large South Asian community. They often find part-time work with small businesses that have slim profit margins and are tempted to cut corners by exploiting their staff, advocates say. Her situation shows how international students and other people who are precariously employed can be taken advantage of, according to the Naujawan Support Network, a group that supported Grewal.

The grassroots organization, which aims to help international students and other young workers dealing with mistreatment and exploitation, posted about Grewal's situation on social media and organized a public protest outside the Chat Hut location. 

Organizer Parmbir Gill said he believes the protest was one of the reasons the business decided to pay Grewal the wages she was owed.

Gill has a message for employers who unfairly exploit precariously employed people: stop now.

"Wage theft is no longer acceptable in Brampton. It has a cost now. Groups of organized workers will impose that cost through protests, boycotts, postering campaigns and other actions that expose exploiters to the community and force them to change their behaviour," he said in an email.

Gill said the provincial government should do more to protect vulnerable workers. He added employees who are exploited should also speak up. 

Grewal is now encouraging others to speak up if their employers are withholding their wages or exploiting them in other ways. (Tina Mackenzie/CBC)

"You have to protect each other. Talk about your problems, learn about your rights, get organized and fight back against exploitation wherever it occurs," he said.

Grewal echoed that sentiment and encouraged others to fight the way she did. 

"Even if nothing has happened to you now, in the future, your brother, sister and friends could face this problem."