Shanta Sundarason took a photo for the front page of the newspaper after the story came out.Scarlett Liu, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Another year of reflection.

The story I covered in 2023 that had the most impact on me would have to be Markham high school students alleging exploitation and protesting for fair and just treatment because it reminded me again about the significance of news supervision, especially in the context of traditional media declining and a large number of journalists being forced to change careers.

A protest against youth exploitation was held in front of Unionville’s Dairy Queen in July, with students exposing unfair treatment such as less than minimum wage and abusive language while working at DQ.

After this article was published and I received a lot of feedback, I realized that the wage exploitation problem of young people is much bigger and more widespread than I thought.

In this story, Shanta Sundarason stepped forward to support two young students, helped them host the protest, sent a demand letter to their employer, and finally got their money back. However, in the ordinary life that is not in the spotlight of the camera, there are many students out of different concerns, are being exploited, but dare not speak out.

Encouraged by this report, a student who did not want to be named reached out to me that she also sent a demand letter to her employer who had been paying her under the minimum wage — “This matter will be reported to the ministry of labour should you fail to pay back over the years,” she requested, and the money owed in consequence was received quickly.

The result greatly boosted her self-confidence. “I was in self-doubt before — whether I was only worth this (less than minimum wage), it wasn’t, it wasn’t my problem,” she said. Now she has moved on from the haze and got a better job.

A teacher from Unionville High also sent me an inspiring feedback that he would take his responsibilities to educate youth about basic workplace laws at school.

The Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic released a report in April 2016, which found a significant number of Chinese restaurant-workers were paid less than minimum wage, and were routinely denied overtime pay, holiday pay and vacation pay. Not giving workers a payroll slip, under-reporting work hours in payroll slips and employer records, and not making statutory payments are among the typical payroll violations reported by workers.

The report is based on the results of a survey of over 180 workers of Chinese descent and their work experience in the Greater Toronto Area restaurant industry between 2013 and 2016. Ten years have passed, the reality does not seem to have improved much.

In addition to those recent immigrants, racialized persons and women who are more likely to be exploited and abused, young students have also joined the victim group.

Even if the problem still exists and the unfairness continues to persist after many reports, we still need the power of the media to constantly supervise, which may not have any real power in hand, but the revelations and criticisms can put pressure on all parties to ultimately create a more justified social environment.

By Scarlett Liu, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jan 02, 2024 at 19:55

This item reprinted with permission from   Economist & Sun   Markham, Ontario

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