It’s generally understood that when you have a job and you do your work, you get paid. Whether you’re a server taking home tips at the end of the night, an office clerk who gets paid bi-weekly through direct deposit or a contractor who is paid at the completion of a job – you get to take home the money you’ve earned. It’s the law.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

Wage theft is a huge issue across North America. It comes in many different forms – not paying for hours worked, overtime or breaks, not paying minimum wage, illegal deductions, withholding tips or denial of pay for sick leave or vacation.

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The worst part is that it usually happens to the most vulnerable workers in low-wage industries who don’t always have the voice or resources to do anything about it.

There have been countless examples across Canada from The Regal Restaurants in Toronto to the highly publicized case of Smiling Goat workers in Halifax who recently unionized.

Alberta is also facing a big crisis when it comes to wage theft and the government is starting to crack down.

In the last three years, there have been more than 6,000 wage theft claims, adding up to nearly $19 million owed to workers.

In June, the Alberta Ministry of Labour sent out letters to employers who were accused of wage theft giving them one last chance to ‘settle with their workersbefore formal investigations ensue.’

The Alberta Labour Minister Christina Gray pointed out the importance of dealing with wage theft because ‘there are many vulnerable workers where two weeks without pay could mean losing their home.’

The Calgary Herald reported that the NDP government has added 23 additional employment standards officers to investigate and enforce regulations concerning fair compensation.

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Wage theft should be taken seriously, but the truth is many workers are afraid to speak up, and even if they do it can take weeks or even months to see those wages.

One of the best ways to protect against wage theft is having a union to back you up. Unions negotiate a collective bargaining agreement that guarantees you not only fair wage but that it will be paid on time without illegal deductions. If there are any issues you have an entire union to back you up so you don’t have to be afraid to raise your voice.

While it is a positive step that the government is taking more steps to ensure wage theft is dealt with, nothing can match the power of having a union on your side.