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Province may have to cover Khaira's costs: BCFED

If Khaira Enterprises fails to honour a Jan. 17 Employment Standards Branch determination that it owes workers nearly $250,000 in unpaid wages and benefits, the provincial government should pay, says B.C. Federation of Labour President Jim Sinclair.

Sinclair said the administrative penalty assessed against the Surrey based tree planting company, $3,500, was far too low to act as an effective deterrent

“Given how much these workers lost, the fine looks more like a reward to the employer than a real punishment," said Sinclair, speaking at a press conference at the downtown Vancouver offices of the BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre. "The message to rogue operators is you can rip off your workers for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and if you get caught you will be fined a few thousand dollars.”

He said he is concerned the ordered repayments may never occur through the company. “I appeal to the government to see that justice is done,” he said, adding the provincial government should pay the workers if the company can not.

Lawyers who represented some of the workers in the Employment Standards matter announced on January 24 they are filing a Human Rights Tribunal complaint against the same company, alleging racist abuse was endured by workers who are recent immigrants from Africa.

“We were treated like slaves,” said Moka Balikama, a former Khaira employee.

The workers, who included a number of recent immigrants from Africa and some local workers as young as 16, were employed last year. According to Karpal Singh, the Employment Standards officer who authored the determination, $232,187.51 is owed to the 57 workers who had been employed by Khaira at tree planting and brush clearing work sites on Texada Island, and in Powell River, Kamloops, Salmon Arm, Revelstoke and Golden.

In addition to ordering that the workers be paid the money owed them within five days, the ruling imposed a $3,500.00 administrative penalty on Khaira for breaches of the Employment Standards Act and Regulation.

“This is one of the worst cases of human rights abuse I have ever seen,” said PIAC lawyer Ros Salvador. She said that her office filed the Human Rights Tribunal complaint on behalf of many of the workers, who reportedly lived in unsanitary conditions and were fed inadequate, spoiled food during their work for the company.

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