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BC tree-planting company must pay after employees faced harsh conditions

VANCOUVER - More than two dozen tree planters who endured harsh conditions in the B.C. backcountry have won a major victory against their former employer.

The B.C. Employment Standards Branch has ordered Khaira Enterprises to pay the workers more than $225,000 in unpaid wages.

A provincial investigation began in late July when the workers were removed from a Khaira Enterprises work camp, 40 kilometres west of Golden in southeastern B.C., after forestry ministry staff discovered what the labour minister described as "substandard conditions."

The workers, most of them landed immigrants from Burundi and the Republic of Congo, complained they had little food, no sanitation, unheated containers for shelter and were paid with bounced cheques, while working at various sites around the province.

At the time, B.C. Federation of Labour President Jim Sinclair said the employees were being treated like "virtual slaves" by the Surrey-based tree planting company.

Sinclair, lawyers with the B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre and one of the affected workers hold a news conference in Vancouver later today to discuss the Employment Standards Branch ruling.

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