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Tree planters awarded back wages

Workers from Texada Island camp included

Tree planters employed by Khaira Enterprises last summer will receive $225,000 in unpaid wages following a BC Employment Standards Branch decision.

In July 2010 numerous immigrant employees, mostly from Africa, accused the silviculture company of providing inadequate living arrangements and withholding pay at a camp near Golden, BC. Khaira had previously worked on Texada Island in March, where the RCMP, Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), WorkSafe BC and BC Timber Sales were called in to investigate the camp after receiving calls about inadequate clothing for workers.

According to VCH internal emails obtained by the Peak through a Freedom of Information request, a number of violations were found at the camp on Texada Island, including perishable food stored at room temperature and overcrowded sleeping trailers. A report declares the risk factor of the violations as “moderate” but emails between VCH and Khaira owner Sunny Sidhu suggest that all recommendations were acted upon and both parties were satisfied with the outcome of the inspection.

A WorkSafe BC report found incomplete training records, improperly posted worker’s notices and insufficient footwear for the workers. Again recommendations were acted upon and WorkSafe did not initiate any further investigations or enforcement.

Investigations into the camps near Golden and other locations revealed poor working and living conditions, withheld pay and inaccurate records of hours.

The investigation prompted by allegations in Golden included workers from Texada Island and Powell River. The money will be awarded to workers with Khaira from March to July 2010. The company has been barred from bidding on government contracts since the start of the investigation.

In a press release the BC Federation of Labour declared the ruling as a “huge victory that shows the need for an independent investigation into the industry and coordinated enforcement to prevent similar abuses.” President Jim Sinclair stated in the release that there are shortcomings with the enforcement of silviculture regulations in the province.

“These workers were let down by every single public agency that had the power to prevent the abuse that took place last summer,” said Sinclair. “There is no reason to believe anything has changed to prevent this kind of abuse as we head into the 2011 tree planting season.”

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