Muhammad Umar Naseem always thought Canada would provide him with a fair chance at a better future than his native Pakistan.
“I liked Canada. I thought it was more peaceful country than any other countries. Like Canada has rules … better than Pakistan and they are being practiced. That is what I was expecting.”
He wasn’t expecting his boss to mislead him about Canadian labour laws and take advantage of him, but he says that’s exactly what happened in his first job here, as a gas station attendant at Petro-Canada in Toronto.
“The initial job interview he specifically told me that you could not get overtime but you would have to work longer hours,” Umar told 16×9. “Your availability should be 24/7. And there is no overtime, nothing.”
WATCH ABOVE: An extended interview with Muhammad Umar Naseem
Naseem claims his boss at Petro-Canada forced him to work about 100 hours per week when he was hired in 2009. He made $9.50 per hour, and was paid only his regular wage, instead of the government-mandated overtime rate of time-and-a-half for hours in excess of 44 hours per week, or 8 hours a day.
“At that time I worked 16 hours … 14, 15, 16 every day… not less than that.”
In 2009, Naseem was awarded a masters degree from the University of Windsor in automotive engineering. He ended up at Petro-Canada when he couldn’t find a job in Ontario’s struggling auto sector. Naseem went back to Pakistan after his one-year student work permit expired, and returned to Canada a year later under the Temporary Foreign Worker program. He was promoted to manager and given a raise. But he says things got worse. He claims he was still working 100 hours per week, but now, Naseem says, he was not being paid at all for anything beyond 44 hours per week.
“I was like so confused and so tired. When I saw my paycheque I was literally crying … I worked like 200 some plus hours and I see a paycheque with 88 hours.”
As a temporary worker, Naseem was allowed into Canada on a work permit that only allowed him to work for Petro-Canada. He says his boss, a man named Shoyaib Khan, threatened to fire him if he complained.
WATCH BELOW: Robert Cribb attempts to interview Petro-Canada franchise owner Shoyaib Khan about allegations that he violated the labour rights of one of his employees
“I was scared that the company would affect my immigration status and Mr. Khan, several times he mentioned if we fired you, if you complained and Petro-Canada fired you, you could be deported.”
Labour lawyer Fay Faraday says what Naseem says happened to him is a common experience for temporary workers. But she says the problem of worker exploitation goes far beyond the Temporary Foreign Worker program.
“The erosions of rights that we’re seeing are something that happen on quite a widespread basis but the workers who are most vulnerable are workers who are in what we characterize as precarious employment,” Faraday told 16×9. “Work that is low-paid, part-time, temporary agency work, migrant work, being asked to do excessive amounts of overtime, not being paid for overtime.”
She says employers have been lobbying governments for more flexibility in the work force for years, and as a result, more workers are now vulnerable to exploitation.
“Right now in Ontario about 40% of jobs are non-standard precarious forms of employment.”
Naseem says he wasn’t even aware there were laws that called for overtime pay until 2014, so he kept his mouth shut and kept working. When he finally got his permanent residency, he confronted his boss. He says he was fired. So he hired a lawyer.
“I was appalled,” said David Whitten. “It’s basically – I mean in another world, this would be called slavery.”
Naseem is suing Shoyaib Khan for unpaid wages, wrongful dismissal, and damages totaling more than $1 million.
16×9’s Robert Cribb spoke briefly to Shoyaib Khan on the phone about Naseem’s allegations.
“We are in a gas station business. People come out of carwash, and they say, ‘Oh, when I entered, I had an Audi, and when I came out, it is a Hyundai.’ So people can say whatever they want, but to comment on that, I need my lawyer, sir.”
Our request for an on-camera interview with Khan was declined. However, in a statement of defence filed in court, Khan denies Naseem worked the overtime he’s claiming. Khan says even if Naseem had worked those hours, he wasn’t aware of it, didn’t authorize it, and never forced Naseem to work overtime. Khan also denies that he threatened to fire Naseem when he complained, and says Naseem wasn’t fired, he quit.
Naseem’s record of employment from Service Canada says he was dismissed, and given $6,000 in lieu of notice. However, in Khan’s statement of defence, he says Naseem had been caught collecting money for allowing people to park at his gas station, and he quit when Khan started asking questions. Naseem denies collecting money for parking.
Khan also claims Naseem was at the station so much not to work, but to sleep.
“Well, the defence – some aspects of it are just frankly bizarre,” Whitten said. “It suggests that Naseem was just living virtually at the gas station because he didn’t want to go home to a cramped apartment. He preferred to sleep at the gas station. I mean, for me, that was just mind-blowing.”
The case took a dark turn after Naseem hired a lawyer. He says Shoyaib Khan sent a business associate to threaten him and his family.
“He asked me what if you were found dead at home?”
“And that is the point I got scared and I laughed at him but inside I was so scared and I just contacted the police.”
Khan denies threatening Naseem. But however the case ends up, labour lawyer Fay Faraday says the statistics in Ontario and other provinces show exploitation of workers is common, and getting worse.
WATCH BELOW: An extended interview with Labour lawyer Fay Faraday
“When the government engages in proactive enforcement, what you see is they discover widespread non-compliance. In the blitzes that they’ve done since 2012, the rate of noncompliance is between 70 and 80 per cent. That’s … a serious problem.”
Naseem says it’s a problem he never expected to be dealing with when he came to Canada.
My dream was like … I am going to settle down in Canada and just live a happy life as everybody seems to live. It made me like … really angry, depressed, weak, and this was not the Canada I thought it would be.”
16×9’s “The Labour Trap” airs Saturday, Apr. 16, 2016 at 7pm.