Mizanur Choudhury was delighted to find a job at a Shell gas station in Ottawa’s west end last year. He had been living in the nation’s capital for a year after arriving with his family from Bangladesh, and had been knocking on doors looking for work ever since.
When he took a job at the station this past winter, the owner, Gamal Abdelhakam, told him he would be “training” for an indeterminate period of time, and that the training period was unpaid. Choudhury happily accepted these terms. However, as weeks passed and Abdelhakam kept putting him off when he asked about pay, Choudhury began to get disheartened, then suspicious. Finally, after repeated requests and with no pay forthcoming, Choudhury stopped going to the gas station. His daughter contacted the local labour council who said that not only should Choudhury receive payment for work provided, he also should have been paid for the training time (confirmed by the Ministry of Labour).
Abdelhakam, the owner, said to the Ottawa Citizen that he was just doing Choudhury a “favor” by letting him put on a uniform and operate the cash at his gas station, that it “wasn’t even training,” that he was never alone at the cash, that he “never got the hang” of the machines. He did, however, offer to pay Choudhury for “a couple of hours” if there had been a “miscommunication.”
But Abdelhakam’s story doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. If he was doing Choudhury a “favor” and if Choudhury was, as he said, inept at using the cash register and interac machines, then why was Choudhury in charge of submitting a police report when a customer left without paying his bill? Why does video surveillance show Choudhury behind the till — alone? And why was Choudhury wearing a Shell uniform if he was not an employee?
Perhaps most disturbingly, is Shell Canada aware of Abdelhakam’s policies of giving out “favors” that seem to translate to unpaid and unfair labor practices? And is this practice widespread among a workplace that seems to attract plenty of new immigrants?
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