Blog Post #289 – Workers in Conditions that are Wanting

Blog Post #289 – Workers in Conditions that are Wanting

Article from the OH&S Canada Magazine

A British Columbia reforestation company has been ordered to pay more than $232,000 after the province’s labour ministry discovered violations ranging from unpaid wages to unauthorized deductions.

British Columbia’s Employment Standards Branch ordered Khaira Enterprises Ltd. to pay about $229,000 in fines and an administrative penalty of $3,500. Issued on January 17, the penalties were ordered in light of violations related to payments for wages, overtime, statutory and vacation pay, compensation for length of service, unauthorized deductions and accrued interest.

The determination – covering January to July, 22, 2010, when the investigation began – affects 58 workers, says Gordon Williams a spokesperson for the Ministry of Labour in Victoria.

“The original circumstance that was brought to the attention of the branch involved 25 employees,” Williams says, referring to silviculture work done in the British Columbia communities of Golden and Revelstoke.

“During the investigation, it became apparent that there were other issues with the company and so the investigation was expanded to cover a number of their operations in B.C.,” he adds.

Last July, one of the company’s camps was shut down amid allegations from a group of African silviculture workers who said they had been seriously mistreated. Complaints revolved around allegations of unpaid wages, lack of sanitation and clean drinking water, and inadequate food and shelter.

A former tree planter reported in January that workers were forced to sleep in insect-infested shipping containers and keep their work tools and wet clothing with them. “There were no windows. The mattress we were using sometimes got wet and it was very, very dirty,” Kaliste Kahamba says. “There was garbage everywhere,” Kahamba adds.

Another worker, Dieudonné Kwizera, claims tree planters often worked 12- to 15-hour days, including travel time.

Inspection reports from WorkSafeBC in Richmond, British Columbia indicate that a site visit to the Golden camp revealed violations of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation relating to water supply, sanitation and sleeping quarters. The company was also issued a series of orders for, among other shortcomings, transporting workers in vehicles that did not contain individual seating arrangements with seat belts, failing to arrange for air service transportation in the event of an injury, and having inadequate or inappropriate first aid supplies and equipment.

Ros Salvador, a lawyer with the Vancouver- based British Columbia Public Interest Advocacy Centre, which represents the 25 workers involved in the original case, says the workers have filed a human rights complaint against Khaira Enterprises and its two directors.

Filed on January 10, the complaint details allegations of discrimination, including ing racial slurs and mockery, racialized violence, and racial and sexual harassment. “Workers were forced to continue working when they were injured or sick and they were often not taken to hospital and coerced to work under threat of being fired,” Salvador charges.

Jim Sinclair, president of the British Columbia Federation of Labour in Vancouver, says the order against Khaira Enterprises shows there is a need for an independent investigation of the silviculture sector.



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