(Vancouver) July 20, 2011. Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the closure of the Khaira camp in Golden, B.C. where tree planters, primarily of African origin, were effectively enslaved, trapped in the woods living and working under deplorable conditions, and not paid. The conditions the workers endured were uncovered following an investigation by the B.C. Federation of Labour.
BC’s Employment Standards Tribunal recently upheld the February 4, 2011 decision of the Employment Standards Branch (ESB), ordering Khaira Enterprises Ltd. to pay $236,800.52 in unpaid wages. To date, workers have not seen a penny of their money even though they won their appeal.
BCPIAC lawyer Ros Salvador, counsel to several former Khaira employees, recently received internal government documents that show Khaira was awarded contracts in 2010 without any consideration of past health or wage payment issues during its 2008 and 2009 government contracts, and that the Ministry of Forests was fully aware of the deplorable conditions and non-payment of wages as early as March 2010 and refused to take any effective action.
The Western Silvicultural Contractors’ Association had warned the government that it was not possible to complete the contracts for the amount Khaira had bid. “All the government cared about was getting the trees planted and paying as little as possible” says Salvador. “Under the low-bid policy, government saves money through the exploitation of workers. We think the Ministry of Forests should pay the full amount of the workers’ wages, otherwise, government profits from the abuse caused by refusing to consider workers’ rights”.
Meanwhile, the federal government still has made no move to correct the workers’ hours and earnings so they can receive their Employment Insurance, continuing instead to rely on Khaira’s false records. Service Canada promised to apply to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to make the corrections once it received the ESB Determination, but the ESB Determination was released five months ago and the file still has not been referred to CRA.
“These workers have waited far too long for the back wages and Employment Insurance to which they are entitled. The appropriate Provincial and Federal agencies need to ensure that former Khaira workers receive this money immediately,” says Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour.
A report following an investigation by the B.C.’s Forest Safety Ombudsman is expected to be released shortly. “We hope the report will address the underlying government practices that ignore workers’ rights in favour of saving money” says Salvador.
Former Khaira workers will be available for comment at BCPIAC after 2 p.m. on July 20.
For more information, please contact
Ros Salvador, BCPIAC 604-687-3063
Evan Stewart, BC Federation of Labour 604-430-1421