So, what’s been on the greedy minds of the Canadian capitalist class lately? Is it a growing sense of empathy and understanding for employees affected by long COVID? Perhaps they’ve got inflation on their minds? Maybe they’re hard at work finding ways to provide their employees with robust mental health support following three years of isolation, anxiety, and uncertainty? 

They technically could be occupying their time with these issues, but we all know that would require just the tiniest shred of respect and humanity toward the very workers who they exploit in order to line their pockets with profits—a respect and humanity which the capitalists have never demonstrated in their lives. 

No. What has most recently, and deeply, disturbed capitalists across the country is “time theft”. 

What is time theft? 

Time theft is a broad term that describes occurrences where employees are not working when they say they are. 

A woman in B.C. was recently ordered to pay $1500 to her former employer after she lost a case in small claims court. She claimed to be fired without cause and sought $5000 in damages from her former job. The employer then claimed that she had reported to be working on projects which she had not been. 

And how exactly were they able to account, down to the minute, for every instance in which the woman was not actively at her desk with her eyes glued to her screen? With invasive surveillance, of course! 

During the pandemic, employers became ever more paranoid about the idea that employees working from home, and thus not chained to a cubicle within shouting distance of their boss, were stealing time during the work day. To help wrangle back control that the capitalists were desperate not to lose, workers have been subjected to surveillance policies to spy on workers to ensure that even in their own home there is never a moment left unexploited. Tracking software uses facial recognition, keystroke and mouse movement tracking, and even audio and video recording to place workers under unending scrutiny. 

From the perspective of the capitalists, they have paid for the labour power of workers, and so each and every moment of the work day is theirs, and theirs alone, to exploit to the fullest. 

Wage theft 

While the bosses are more than content to monitor every waking moment of workers, ensuring there is absolutely no efficiency lost to interruptions and distractions in the home, they are incredibly hostile towards any implication that it may, in fact, be they who are engaging in significant acts of theft. 

As opposed to the workers, who are expected to ensure the most scrupulous accounting of their time and activities lest they be ordered to repay thousands of dollars in “stolen time”, the bosses regularly get away with actual, tangible theft. 

Between 2009 and 2015, workers in Ontario reported $47.5 million in stolen wages, unpaid severance, and unpaid overtime. Of this, only $19 million was actually paid by employers ruled to be violating the Employment Standards Act. On top of this, just 0.2 per cent of bosses participating in these monetary violations were ever actually prosecuted for theft or fraud, which, in case the capitalists have forgotten, are in fact illegal. One of the tribunal members in the case of the woman in B.C. mentioned above said in a statement that “Time theft in the employment context is viewed as a very serious form of misconduct.” But it seems that wage theft isn’t viewed as such a serious form of misconduct in the courts.

In B.C., a recent report by the B.C. Employment Standards Coalition found that the Employment Standards Branch was grossly incompetent in addressing violations by employers. This incompetence ranges from taking between 18 months to three years to resolve complaints, to providing inadequate and incorrect advice which confused workers and encouraged them to settle for less than they were owed, to showing obvious and continued bias favouring the bosses.

Not content with just making the process of filing a complaint an absolute nightmare unlikely to actually resolve anything, the clowns at the Employment Standards Branch were found to have inaccessible offices with inconvenient hours, as well as a lack of access to translators or liaisons, despite the fact that migrant and temporary foreign workers are far more likely to experience violations without adequate recourse. The public service office mandated with protecting workers from fraudulent employers has instead chosen to stick their fingers into their ears, close their eyes very tightly, and scream, instead of carrying out the one job they are tasked with doing.

It seems as though the B.C. government has been engaging in a little time theft of their own by wasting many hours in the lives of the unfortunate souls that happen to walk through the Employment Standards Branch’s doors. That is, if they can actually find the doors. 

All over Canada, 260,000 people have received demands to pay back thousands in so-called misappropriated federal COVID supports totalling over $1.2 billion. With such a strict, law-and-order approach to supposedly ill-gotten gains on the part of the workers, surely they are just as hard at work hunting down the estimated $15.5 billion in fraudulent Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) benefits paid out to corporations over the course of the pandemic? 

The CRA says that looking into the thousands of businesses suspected of taking advantage of the benefit would not be worth the effort! Yet somehow, it is worth the effort to send letters demanding repayment to over a quarter of a million Canadians who have already spent the money from COVID supports on food, shelter, and transportation. So what does the CRA believe is an appropriate response for massive corporations squandering the tax dollars of their citizens? Commissioner Bob Hamilton boasts about the spectrum of options available to deal with these corporations, including educating them on their taxation obligations! (You know—making sure that the little guys, like Air Canada, Syncrude, and Cenovus have a thorough review of the legal obligations of operating a business so that they don’t accidentally break the law again in the future.) 

Interestingly, data indicating which corporations had their hand in the cookie jar has mysteriously disappeared from the Internet. In 2020, the CRA released a searchable database of all corporations who accessed the funds. Today, this link leads to a 404 error and the information can only be pieced together with fragments uploaded to independent blogs and archives. It’s probably just a glitch, though. The Canadian government would never obscure the ways in which they collaborate with corporations to maximize profits, all while the workers are accused of stealing precious time from their bosses. 

Once again, the capitalists are handled with kid gloves that “protect private interests” while the rest of us are forced to foot the bill. Over the course of the pandemic, corporations in Canada saw increased profitability, largely through tax cuts, corporate welfare, and price gouging. Increased profits, of course, never have an impact on the bank accounts of the workers, but rather help the CEOs and other executives finance lavish lifestyles most can only dream of. 

Loblaws saw profits increase 40 per cent, and their share prices skyrocketed following the decision to cut the $2 pandemic pay increase for their employees. Everyone’s least favourite grocery gremlin, Galen Weston Jr., saw his personal fortune grow $1.6 billion. 

The ruling class has long known how to play the game, which is easy seeing as it is rigged in their favour anyway. They’ve unlocked a few easy tricks to rip even more money from the wallets of the working class, and these are, put simply, theft, breaking the law, and lying. 

A way forward 

Instead of worrying about whether or not someone has done a load of laundry or streamed a video while working from home, we should focus on the fact that the capitalists are the ones robbing the workers. It is not workers “stealing” from the boss’s time which is the issue, but rather employers robbing their employees.

Despite what the business school rejects on Linkedin try to convince us of, swanky country club memberships, multi-million dollar estates, and garages full of supercars are not earned through the hard work and dedication of the bosses. They are earned through the exploitation of the working class. Piece by piece, workers give up their most precious resources—their time, their energy, their very bodies—in the service of profits which they see fewer and fewer benefits from.

Workers are increasingly disempowered to address the sleazy and illegal actions of their employers, and dissatisfaction has been growing. More and more workers are interested in joining a union, and the past decade has been punctuated with worldwide outbursts of revolution. There is an increasing distrust in the institutions meant to protect workers from workplace violations. Capitalism is gasping for breath, desperate to land any pathetic blow it can against the working class. 

Workers around the globe have shown that they are willing and able to fight back against attacks on their rights. This is not a fight that can be won alone, however. What is required is united and organized action that will finally allow workers the freedom to control their own workplaces, to decide what to do with the fruits of their labour. This is the only way to create a world in our own image, to put the efforts of society toward the good of the many instead of the profits of a few. We must take increasingly militant and collective action to win our demands. 

The working class is sick and tired of being accused of “quiet quitting” and “time theft” while the capitalists steal wages and state benefits with impunity. It’s about time that the bosses pay up.