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Kashruth Council drops appeal in labour case

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TORONTO — The Kashruth Council of Canada has withdrawn its appeal to the Ontario Labour Relations Board of an order to pay 57 mashgichim $10,000 after it was found to have violated provincial employment standards.

On Aug. 16, a Ministry of Labour inspection found that during five months in 2011, the Kashruth Council, which oversees the COR kosher symbol, violated the Employment Standards Act (ESA) in its payment of 57 present and former mashgichim (kashrut supervisors) with respect to minimum wage, vacation time, work hours and public holidays.

The ministry ordered the council to pay about $10,000 in total to the mashgichim, which it did.

But last fall, the Kashruth Council alleged that the $10,000 was the result of “calculation errors” by ministry inspectors and that it intended to appeal the ruling. It also denied that it had strong-armed the 57 mashgichim to sign a settlement after accusations of coercion, based on leaked emails, were published on an anti-haredi blog.

Ultimately, 54 of the 57 mashgichim signed releases waiving their share of the $10,000 that was being held in trust by the Ministry of Labour. The remaining three, who were entitled to a total of $140.92, were paid in December, and the balance – more than $9,800 – was returned to the Kashruth Council.

“[The Kashruth Council] is not taking anything out of the pockets of any of our mashgichim,” said spokesperson Richard Rabkin. “The funds are simply being returned by the ministry as is the normal course in matters such as these.”

In light of the settlement, the council withdrew its appeal on Jan. 4.

“[T]he only matter… left from the audit were the compliance orders, [which] simply restate the requirements that the employer comply with… the ESA,” Rabkin said.

But he added: “Because the Kashruth Council of Canada is compliant with the ESA, there was no reason to proceed to challenge the orders,” Rabkin said after the money was returned,

The council bases this claim on the report of one ministry inspector in an earlier case who found that its compensation went above and beyond the ESA.

The agency employs some 100 mashgichim, most of them part time.

Allegations of labour irregularities first came to light in a November 2011 case concerning former mashgiach Morley Rand in which the Kashruth Council initially claimed mashgichim were holders of “religious office” and, therefore, not subject to the ESA.

However, the Ministry of Labour ruled against the Kashruth Council, saying that Rand was entitled to overtime. Final details of Rand’s case are scheduled to be heard this spring.

Following the inspection and audit last August, the ministry demanded that the council bring its practices in line with the ESA by Sept. 21, 2012.

But the Kashruth Council, which is self-funded and receives no financial support from UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, said there would be no change to its pay policies.

“[O]ur executive met to discuss this very issue and voted that if our policies have been upheld by the Ministry of Labour… and our policy is more favourable for over 95 per cent of our mashgichim, then we should continue these practices,” Rabkin said.

The Kashruth Council pays overtime for any shift longer than 10 hours, plus twice-yearly holiday bonuses, while the ESA calls for overtime to kick in after a 44-hour work week.

Since 2011, COR has continually asserted its support of front-line employees. 

“Despite the challenges,” Rabkin said in an earlier statement, referring to the possibility of future investigations, “[the Kashruth Council] will continue to do the right thing… we are confident that we will continue to successfully pass muster with the ministry.”

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