Wage theft is simply when your employer does not rightfully pay you what they owe you. It’s an illegal practice where employers fail to remit the full wages and benefits they owe workers. It takes different forms and is a widespread practice. From the perspective of Marxists and people who are critical of capitalism, all employees under capitalism suffer the effects of wage theft. This is because workers produce the goods and services that are sold then the employer appropriates all the profits only paying the worker the least amount they can get away with. The FBI estimates that billions are stolen from workers by employers every year. Let’s talk about the different types of wage theft.
Types of wage theft
One common way employers steal from their employees is by failing to pay overtime. Employers exploit their workers, putting them in a position where they work excessively long hours, going past official working hours and not paying them for the extra hours. This is one of those things that become increasingly common as people increasingly work from home.
An increasing practice among companies is classifying workers as independent contractors as opposed to employees. The reason they do this is to avoid paying certain protections and benefits such as minimum wage, unemployment insurance and even retirement benefits. This is considered wage theft because the employer is failing to remit the benefits and protections that the worker is entitled to.
Denying meal and rest breaks
Some employers have such exacting working hours that they fail to provide their employees with breaks for meals and rest.
Another common type of wage theft is where an employer makes a deduction to your pay without your say-so. This is specific to deductions that are not authorized, unlike contributions to retirement benefit schemes and health insurance. For example, some employers deduct the cost of uniforms from your pay.
Employers will pay you the least they can get away with. This includes paying less than the country’s minimum wage requirements. An employer who does this is committing wage theft.
How to respond
Wage theft has significant negative effects on workers not least of all keeping them poor and precarious. Most work environments such as these create a culture of exploitation and fear where workers are afraid to speak up for fear of retaliation. If you have reason to believe that your employer is stealing from you beyond the usual capitalism staple, here are some things you can do.
Begin by looking at the labour laws and confirming whether any laws have been broken. It’s this worker’s ignorance of their rights that in part contributes to employers committing wage theft.
If you think that’s the case, find the relevant body to report the problem to. In Kenya, you can report to the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection. You can also sue your employer. You just might win.
If you’re able, organize with fellow workers and form a union. Employers prefer to isolate employees which makes exploiting them easier. Unionizing allows you to negotiate together on everything from pay to benefits which protects all of you from the highest paid to the least. Unions are a great way to advocate for yourselves in a way that keeps you from risking your job as you would if you spoke up on your own. Beyond organizing with your fellow workers, join other broader struggles against capitalism because wage theft is a systemic issue and all workers under capitalism are victims of wage theft.
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