Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Province fines sushi restaurants

Failed to properly pay employees

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The province's employment watchdog had to act this year to ensure sushi restaurant employees weren't getting a raw deal.

That was one of the findings from an Employment Standards report released Tuesday that details its investigations on employer wage violations.

During spot checks of several sushi restaurants, Employment Standards inspectors found 95 per cent of them failed to pay employees holiday pay or overtime.

The spot checks prompted the provincial agency to issue warnings to all 52 city sushi restaurants -- in the form of notice-to-comply orders -- to make sure provincial laws were being followed. Followup inspections found most restaurants had complied, with all but one, Wasabi Sabi on Taylor Avenue, fined for continual violations.

Wasabi Sabi was fined $500 this year for failure to pay wages within a 10-day period.

Asha Kim, a full-time chef at Sushi California on Academy Road, said he was not surprised about Employment Standards' findings.

"Our restaurant pays our employees properly, but most sushi restaurants don't make much profit," he said, alluding to how competitive the restaurant industry is in Winnipeg.

Part-time workers at Sushi California don't receive overtime pay, he said, but not because the employers are trying to circumvent labour laws.

"Our place always schedules part-time workers to make sure we're following the law," said Kim.

He said complaints from workers at other sushi restaurants may have been because employees weren't satisfied with their wages. If that's the case, workers always have a choice.

"The employees, if they aren't happy, they can find another job," he said.

While the responsibility to pay staff is on employers, workers should be diligent on where they choose to ply their trade, said Chantalle Noschese, a pastry chef and culinary arts instructor at Red River College.

"Definitely do your homework," she said. "Investigate with your colleagues, people in the industry. Go on Facebook or Urbanspoon.

"If the business is making money, it shouldn't be an issue."

Employment Standards is a provincial branch that monitors businesses in Manitoba.

The branch answers questions, explains legislation and investigates employers to ensure the laws are followed.

The investigation branch relies on multiple sources to determine which employers to investigate. Tips from workers play an important role.

Each year, Employment Standards investigates about 450 businesses, with more than half of the investigations conducted because of tips.

On average, 80 per cent of employers investigated are found to be in violation of employment laws, according to the Employment Standards' website.

The branch has the authority to fine any business that violates employment or construction wage codes. Fines range from $500 to $10,000 and are imposed upon violation after a business has been initially served a notice-to-comply order.

A complete list of businesses fined is available at http://www.gov.mb.ca/labour/standards/asset_library/pdf/ap_archived_2012.pdf

matthew.bedard@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 20, 2012 B2

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