Ministry of Labour probes RSU worker complaints

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By Carys Mills

Complaints about missing termination pay and claims of reprisal filed against the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) are sending the group to meet with the Ministry of Labour later this month.

“I’m feeling confident because I know that what happened to us wasn’t right,” said Jesse Trautmann, RyePride’s former outreach coordinator.

Trautmann is one of eight former RSU community service group employees who filed claims with the Ministry of Labour, accusing the students’ union of breaking Employment Standards Act requirements. An employment standards officer, former employees and RSU representatives will meet on Nov. 16 for the first time since the complaints were filed.

“If termination pay was applicable, people would have got it,” said Toby Whitfield, RSU vicepresident finance and services. Two employees, including Trautmann, had their contracts terminated early. Whitfield would only comment by saying they were terminated with cause.

Although the claims are against the RSU as a whole, the people overseeing the staff were Whitfield and Denise Hammond, executive director of communications and outreach.

“The people who were responsible for us are the people we want to be accountable for what happened,” said Trautmann.

He said he’s also concerned about confusion over the end of contracts, unpaid work hours and mandatory overtime.

“I think that was them misunderstanding or not understanding what their responsibilities and roles were as part-time staff,” said Whitfield about some concerns.

Investigations attempt to resolve conflicts through negotiations instead of placing charges or orders, according to Bruce Skeaff, inistry of Labour spokesperson. But some investigations do end up in court or involve a collections agency.

The ministry can’t enforce compensation for hurt feelings like a civil lawsuit could, according to Skeaff. But the process can decide if employees are owed financially according to their contract.

Trautmann asked a lawyer for advice before filing the complaints in June. Because a civil lawsuit wasn’t affordable it was suggested the group go through the Ministry of Labour.

“We had to go to a different body of authority… to sort out this mess,” said Trautmann.

Skeaff said he wouldn’t be surprised if both sides want legal representation at the negotiations. But the former employees will be without legal counsel and the RSU hasn’t decided whether to use a lawyer.

“There’s no point in paying to have lawyers present if it’s not needed,” said Whitfield. If the RSU uses a lawyer it will be paid for from the operating budget, which is generated in part from student membership fees.

The meeting on Nov. 16 is only the start of the process.

“How long things take depends on how sticky things get,” said Skeaff, adding that some cases take over a year.

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