The death of a Toronto gas station attendant has prompted a province-wide awareness campaign and a private member’s bill seeking greater legal protection for vulnerable retail and service workers.
Jayesh Prajapati, 44, was run over and killed on September 15 by a customer who gassed up and left the station without paying. Many suspect Prajapati pursued the customer fearing his wages would be docked to pay for the stolen gas.
Docking wages for customer theft illegal
Under Ontario's Employment Standards Act, it is illegal for employers to deduct wages from workers to recover the cost of stolen merchandise. Since the incident, workers have come forward suggesting the practice is not uncommon. In response, the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) has started the Bad Gas Rip-Off Hotline (1-800-668-9138), a toll-free, confidential hotline to report illegal docking of wages to cover the cost of customer theft. The OFL intends to press for better protection and greater enforcement.
Along with demands for a full health and safety investigation, the OFL has asked the Ministry of Labour to launch a proactive blitz of retail gas stations to uncover employment standards violations.
The OFL has also called upon Toronto Police Services to criminally investigate the gas station owner and Shell Canada to determine if corporate policies contributed to Prajapati's death.
Amid public outcry over Prajapati’s death, a private members' bill, An Act to amend various statutes with respect to worker safety at service stations, was quickly crafted. Mike Colle, the Member of Parliament whose riding includes the gas station where Prajapati was killed, introduced Bill 124, also known as Jayesh’s Law. Prajapati’s 11-year-old son, Rishabh, was at Ontario Legislature to see the bill introduced and pass first reading.
If passed, Jayesh's Law, among other things, would amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act to require prepaid fuel purchases and mandate employers to provide training to their employees working at retail fuel stations.
Grant's Law in British Columbia
A similar 'gas n dash' incident resulted in the 2005 death of 24 year-old Maple Ridge, B.C. gas station worker, Grant De Patie. A vigorous campaign by De Patie’s family, labour and community groups was instrumental in securing health and safety changes in 2008, now known as Grant's Law.
Considered model health and safety legislation, Grant's Law aims to protect those working alone or in isolation at night. Its provisions include mandatory prepayments for purchases, physical barriers to protect workers, and additional staffing during night shifts. Amendments this past spring give employers the option to use security and surveillance systems, time locked safes and warning signs as a means of protecting employees from the risk of violence. Critics believe this has significantly weakened the law.
Ontario health and safety advocates fear more retail workers will lose their lives without tougher laws and enforcement. In May 2011, Atifeh Rada, a 62 year-old Mississauga gas station attendant was struck and later died from his injuries after he pursued a customer who failed to pay for a gas purchase.
Want to read a WHSC Resource Lines hazard bulletin on working alone?
Want to learn more about the OFL Bad Gas Rip-Off Campaign?
Want to read Bill 124, Jayesh’s Law?
Want to read WorkSafe BC’s Regulation and resources on working alone and late at night?
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