NDP caught short on pay for Punjabi-speaking canvassers

BY MICHAEL SMYTH,

THE PROVINCE

At the same time NDP leader Thomas Mulcair was railing about “equality” and demanding a $15-an-hour minimum wage, some of the party’s Punjabi-speaking phone canvassers were being paid $13 an hour — four bucks less than their English-speaking counterparts. Now, after an investigation by The Province newspaper, the Punjabi-speaking workers are receiving back pay. “We’ve now cleared that up,” said Bob Penner, president of Vancouver’s Strategic Communications, a key NDP consulting company. “We will now ensure the employees in question are paid at a rate of $17 per hour, which is the rate of pay offered by the NDP.” Nice to know. But I doubt these Punjabi-speaking NDP workers would have ever known they were being ripped off in the first place. In Sunday’s paper, I told you about two NDP want ads that appeared on Craigslist. One ad sought English-speaking phone canvassers for the NDP at a rate of pay of $17 an hour. The other ad sought Punjabi-speaking phone canvassers for just $13 an hour. The contrasting pay rates smacked of blatant discrimination. And with Mulcair campaigning for a $15-an-hour minimum wage, the cut-rate pay for Punjabi canvassers was also extremely hypocritical. When I asked the NDP for an explanation, the party could not offer one, suggesting the Punjabi ad — placed on Craigslist by Burnaby-based employment agency Express Professionals — may have been a mistake. Here’s what actually happened: The party hired Strategic Communications to conduct telephone canvassing. Strategic Communications subcontracted the Burnaby employment agency to do the hiring, which then hired the Punjabi-speaking canvassers for $13 an hour. “We didn’t know about this,” said NDP spokesman Glen Sanford. “We don’t discriminate in any shape or form. When we identified that there was a problem with a subcontractor, we took steps to make sure people are paid accordingly.” Penner, whose company has been working closely for many years with the NDP, said the employees involved will receive back pay for the hours they already worked and will make $17 an hour from now on. “StratCom did not communicate to the subcontractor the expectation of what they would pay,” Penner said. But why didn’t they communicate? Why didn’t the NDP make sure their Punjabi-speaking canvassers were being paid the same as their English-speaking canvassers? Don’t forget this is a political party that’s been merciless in its attacks on the Conservatives and others over issues of discrimination, equality and wage fairness. And yet here were Punjabi-speaking canvassers working for them for less than the minimum wage that Mulcair is publicly demanding, and less than their English-speaking co-workers, to boot. Ignorance is no excuse. It doesn’t matter that they “didn’t know.” Before the New Democrats make demands of everyone else, they should at least make sure they practise what they preach.