Blog Post #482 – Workers Allege Mistreatment

Excerpt from the OH&S Canada magazine

A British Columbia work camp was shut down amid allegations of unsafe work conditions and employment standards violations.

On July 21, 2010, a group of workers publicly alleged that they had been mistreated by their employer, Khaira Enterprises Ltd., while working at the company’s silviculture camp near Golden, British Columbia, says a spokesperson for the Ministry of Labour in Victoria. “The conditions they described include a lack of proper sanitation and clean drinking water, inadequate food and shelter and unpaid wages,” the spokesperson says.

New Democrat MLA Raj Chouhan says the site was discovered because the workers lit an illegal fire to draw attention to their conditions.

“That’s how they were found out. Not because of a regular check-up by forest safety, the workers’ compensation board or the Employment Standards Branch,” Chouhan charges.

The provincial spokesperson says that several agencies are investigating, including the labour ministry’s Employment Standards Branch, WorkSafeBC and the Ministry of Forests and Range. Khaira Enterprises has been barred from bidding on any forestry contracts in the region for at least a year, the spokesperson adds.

WorkSafeBC’s Donna Freeman says some issues raised by the workers fall within the board’s jurisdiction, although most do not.Freeman says WorkSafeBC will continue to investigate. The board could look into matters such as chemical storage, hazard identification and first aid equipment at the work site, she says.

Jim Sinclair, president of the BC Federation of Labour in Vancouver, says some workers have told him directly that they had been exposed to questionable conditions, including a lack of toilet facilities or potable water, daily shortages of food and piled-up garbage that put workers at risk of bear attacks.

Sinclair also alleges that the workers were being transported to and from the farm’s work camp in an unsafe manner. “For two-hour trips, they used a 15-passenger van and put over 20 people in it,” he contends.

Sinclair and Chouhan encourage the provincial government to launch an independent inquiry into the silviculture industry. Sinclair argues there is “a systemic problem in this industry caused by lack of enforcement and low bidding.”

The spokesperson for British Columbia’s labour ministry reports that various inspections are currently under way and would need to be completed before determining if an inquiry is appropriate.

My opinion

Workers Allege Mistreatment! I guess so! Slavery in Canada! Well, that was what it looks like to me. SLAVERY!

There needs to be a checks and balances approach to businesses in any jurisdiction. Here we find what should be described as third world conditions and not those of a forward-thinking or enlightened country such as Canada. British Columbia has a good safety reputation, one where enforcement is commonplace so I was surprised that this went on under their very nose.

Mind you, all I have to do is go to almost any work-site in Ontario and see health and safety violations. Yesterday, for an example, I began watching a boom-supported lift at the local Canadian Tire and the workers were wearing harnesses but neither one was wearing a lanyard. Both operators were unattached. I brought this up to the supervisor of the crew, who was situated at the base of the boom-supported lift, and he bowed his head and let me know it will be over in a few minutes. I let Canadian Tire know this and they, immediately, went out to deal with it. By then, the three workers of the crew were nowhere in sight.

I guess the message of the new standard, Ontario’s ‘Working at Heights’ has not reached their ears.

Remember – In Ontario, “ALL Accidents are Preventable”

‘Work’ and ‘Play’ safe.

Daniel L. Beal
CHSEP – Foundation Level
VP & Senior Trainer
HRS Group Inc.

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