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Friday, May 19, 2006

I think it is illegal in Canada... 

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“Dear Ai,
My friend is working at a sushi restaurant in downtown Vancouver. She was told that she should be working 3 days (3 hours each day) for free as training. She is also given only 10 minutes lunch break for working 8 hours a day. I think it is illegal in Canada to work such a condition. I think she should talk with the owner. She said that because she has a working holiday visa which has few months left to allow her work in Canada. It is very hard for her to find next place to work. She doesn’t want to lose her current job, but she would like to improve her situation. What should she or I do?” Jay – South Korea

“Hi Jay,
It is unfortunate that your friend is afraid of confronting her boss about her work situation. I have been counseling many working holiday students who have been treated like her. Some students do not know the laws in Canada, so they accept unfair treatments, while others do not want to make any fuss by risking their current job. She is lucky to have you as a friend.

I understand her fear of losing her job. It might be her culture that tries not to make any conflicts. Probably, this boss has taken advantage of students who cannot question his management. This is very important that she should stands up for herself, so her boss will have better work ethics and it will benefit her and people who work there in the future.

I searched the BC Employment Standards website and found relevant information for her. As you said, her employer operates his/her business illegally if he/she doesn’t pay for her meal break. In British Columbia, “an employee must not work more than five hours in a row without a 30-minute unpaid meal break. An employee who is required to work or be available for work during a meal break must be paid for the meal break.” Also, employers need to pay for job-related training.

The Employment Standards website ( gives you the basic information regarding work in BC, such as minimum wage, overtime, statutory holidays etc… Visit the frequently asked questions. Most questions can be answered on this page.

As her friend, you can show the website above. Once she gets the general idea, she can try to resolve the issue more confidently. If her boss does not agree with her, then download “Employment Standards Act Self-Help Kit” from the website. It shows her seriousness to her boss. If either directly talking to the boss or the self-help kit does not work, then you need to take the last step. Talk with an Employment Standards officer. They will help both employers and employees to try and reach an agreement. For general inquiries, you can call at 1-800-663-3316.

Also it is a good idea to report the restaurant to the Better Business Bureau ( which watches companies to ensure they do business ethically.

Do not give up - be firm to the unfairness. This will be a good experience for her to stand up for herself and make the right decision.


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