Brampton international student alleges restaurant stole $18K worth of her wages

An international student says her employers at a Brampton restaurant stole just over $18,000 worth of her wages during a six-month span, leaving her broke and severely depressed.

22-year-old files labour complaint against Chat Hut, restaurant declines to comment

Satinder Kaur Grewal joins a protest outside the restaurant where she used to work on Dec. 4, 2021. Grewal alleges in a Ministry of Labour complaint that Chat Hut's managers stole more than $18,000 worth of her wages. The company declined to comment for this story. (Grant Linton/CBC)

An international student says her employers at a Brampton restaurant stole just over $18,000 worth of her wages during a six-month span, leaving her broke and severely depressed.

Satinder Kaur Grewal, a 22-year-old graduate of the Montreal College of Information Technology, has now filed a complaint with Ontario's labour ministry against her former employer, Chat Hut — a takeout South Asian restaurant with at least two locations in Peel Region.

Grewal said she left the job last December without being paid and without much hope for a better future. At times this year, she said she found herself struggling with depression to the point that she considered suicide.

"When they said that 'I will not give you the money,' I thought what, I like, wasted my seven months over there," Grewal told CBC News.

"It's not good, right?"

Grewal alleges in her ministry complaint that she worked long hours and through holidays for less than minimum wage and was never properly added to the company's payroll during her time there. 

Chat Hut's management declined to comment when reached by CBC News.

Ontario's Ministry of Labour confirmed it is investigating Grewal's allegations. 

As a result of her experience, Grewal said her path to becoming a permanent resident in Canada has become more difficult.

She's now working with the Naujawan Support Network — a grassroots organization that aims to help international students and other young workers dealing with mistreatment and exploitation — to raise awareness about her situation.

Student alleges she was paid less than minimum wage

Grewal says she worked as a server, cook, cleaner and cashier at Chat Hut from approximately June 20 until Dec. 25 of 2020.  She wound up working there after randomly visiting the restaurant to use its restroom while searching for work. 

The Naujawan Support Network has now staged a number of protests in Brampton targeting businesses and their leaders accused of mistreating workers. (Grant Linton/CBC)

Grewal said she'd just been laid off from her job at Walmart and was struggling to find a replacement.

"I tried a lot of places in the warehouses, restaurants, but no one gave me the job," Grewal said.

So when Chat Hut's owners told her they had an opening, she thought she was in luck. 

Soon after joining though, Grewal says, she found the work paid less than Ontario's $14.35 minimum wage. Grewal says she was initially paid $60 per day regardless of the hours she worked.

On Aug. 1, her pay was increased to $100 for a 12-hour work day, according to her complaint.  If she worked more than 12 hours she would get $8 each additional hour, her complaint states.

Grewal alleges Chat Hut would sometimes pay her in cash, either on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. She also claims that she worked many consecutive days without any holidays. 

Things came to a head last December, when Grewal was looking to apply for a work permit.

She says she went to Chat Hut to start her payroll so the hours she worked could count toward her permanent residency, but management refused to help. 

"They directly said, 'We will not help you. If you want to do it, you have to work one year more with us,'" she told CBC News. 

Once they refused, Grewal alleges she asked to be paid minimum wage, but was told if she didn't like the work she could leave. She did. 

Wage theft common in Brampton, support group warns

The Naujawan Support Network says situations like Grewal's are all too common in Brampton and that many international students are facing similar experiences.

Since the summer, the group has staged protests outside businesses accused of wrongdoing and has even gone as far as rallying outside the private homes of business owners. 

Ontario's labour minister confirmed it's investigating Grewal's claim however it's unclear when there will be a decision. (Tina Mackenzie/CBC)

The group staged a protest at the Chat Hut on Dec. 4, with her supporters chanting "Chat Hut, Chor Hut" (chor in Punjabi means thief) and "Lutt Lutt Band Karo" (which in Punjabi translates to "stop stop wage theft") for everyone in the shopping plaza to hear.

It has an active social media presence focused on calling out businesses accused of worker exploitation, which is how Grewal found the group late this summer. 

Naujawan member Parmbir Gill said he thinks employers believe they have the power to do whatever they want regardless of Ontario's employment standards.

"Employers have a sense of impunity. They do not face serious consequences for exploiting workers … whether those workers are international students or work permit holders or even [permanent residents] or citizens," he said. 

"Without meaningful consequences, this kind of thing has been widespread and will remain widespread." 

Recently, Naujawan said it successfully helped one client obtain over $5,000 from a trucking company accused of not paying its workers. 

The group says it plans to continue its boycott efforts until Grewal's situation has been resolved. 

Standing up for other students

Grewal's claim was submitted in November. The Ministry of Labour says it's in the process of being assigned to an employment standards officer who will complete the investigation and decide whether any enforcement action is necessary.

It's unclear how long the investigation will take. 

As Grewal awaits the decision, she's taken up work as a security guard. She's also on a post-graduate work-permit which is set to last for three more years. 

And while reclaiming her unpaid wages is important to her, Grewal says she hopes others can benefit from her fight. 

"I'm standing, not for myself. I'm standing for every international student who comes here facing this problem," she said. "We students are together."


Nav Nanwa is currently the host of Windsor Morning with CBC Radio One Windsor. Before coming to CBC Windsor, he was a Reporter/Editor with the Brampton Backpack Bureau, as well as a Business Columnist and Associate Producer for CBC Radio's afternoon show in Toronto - Here and Now.