Unpaid tech workers frustrated over province’s “slow” response to Istuary scandal

By Lisa Tanh

A Vancouver tech company that owes over a hundred employees millions of dollars has yet to pay up, and the workers are expressing frustration at the “slow” pace of the province’s efforts to recover unpaid wages.

Istuary Innovation Group, a computer hardware and software company that was located on Howe Street, owes 122 employees four months of wages that equal to $2.9 million dollars.

Between September and October, Istuary closed its office and was fined $500 by B.C.’s Employment Standards Branch (ESB) which oversees the Employment Standards Act and Regulation[1]https://thinkpol.ca/2017/12/04/employer-who-stole-nearly-3m-in-wages-from-157-employees-fined-500/.

Ethan Sun, the CEO and primary director of Istuary, allegedly sent letters to all employees saying they would receive payment by Jan. 1, according to a former employee who asked to remain anonymous for professional reasons. The employee also said they have yet to hear from Istuary besides the WeChat message below.

“I don’t have high hopes that they would ever pay me back,” the employee said. “In China, if you owe people three-month salary, the police will respond quickly to make sure you take action – otherwise you will lose your freedom.”

The employee described B.C.’s government as “slow” and “cautious” in response to Istuary’s lack of action.

B.C.’s Ministry of Labour communications director, Julianne McCaffrey, told ThinkPol in an email that the ESB is looking at several options to recover the wages through multiple channels. But, McCaffrey said, enforcement is contingent on finding responsible parties and avenues of gathering payment.

She said the ESB has been able to recover approximately $70,000 from asset auctions and seizing funds in bank accounts, and placed a certificate of judgment on a multi-million dollar property owned by Sun, effectively preventing him from selling or mortgaging that asset.

Menachem Freedman, a labour, employment and human rights lawyer at HHBG Lawyers, said employees have a few options to try and collect their money which may not be helpful if Istuary filed for bankruptcy or fled the country.

Since employees have an order from the ESB, the $2.9 million dollars that Istuary owes them becomes a secured debt and will begin accruing interest. The employees can file the order in the B.C. Supreme Court which allows them to use court procedures to seize Istuary assets.

“The employees can also recover unpaid wages personally from the directors and officers of Istuary if they can find them,” Freedman said. “But only for two months of unpaid wages and only if Istuary is not in bankruptcy or receivership. Finally, there is [an] experimental legal avenue for recovering wages called an oppression action.

Though expensive and complex, an oppression action would allow employees to go after a wider range of affiliates of Istuary or closely related companies, even if they were not technically part of Istuary itself.

“So if Istuary’s owners or directors shuffled money out of Istuary into a closely related corporation that they control to evade a lawsuit for unpaid wages, an oppression [action] would [allow] the court look beyond the fact that Istuary has no money and go after these closely related entities,” Freedman said.

References   [ + ]

1. https://thinkpol.ca/2017/12/04/employer-who-stole-nearly-3m-in-wages-from-157-employees-fined-500/