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Newspaper article

B.C. immigrant workers found in squalid conditions near Golden

Date

2010-08-10

Authors

Kim Bolan

Abstract

The B.C. government has terminated a contract with a Surrey forestry company after 25 workers - many of them immigrants from the Congo - were found living in substandard conditions near Golden in late July.

Newspaper title

Global BC

Full text

The B.C. government has terminated a contract with a Surrey forestry company after 25 workers - many of them immigrants from the Congo - were found living in substandard conditions near Golden in late July.

And Forest Ministry communications director Robert Pauliszyn said Monday Khaira Entreprises Ltd. will be banned from bidding on other contracts in the region for a year.

Most of the 25 workers had travelled from eastern Canada for jobs clearing brush near Golden. They were living in a bush camp and complanied of a lack of food and inadequate facilities, a church worker in Golden told The Vancouver Sun.

And the workers told government officials they were not fully paid and on the job seven days a week.

"We are aware of the allegations of poor conditions and unpaid wages at a forestry workers camp near Golden," Pauliszyn said. "Upon discovering the camp, the RCMP, provincial staff and local first responders worked hard to immediately address the workers’ health and safety concerns. Government staff arranged for transportation, food and accommodation in Golden until they could be sent home."

Trinity Lutheran church in Golden scrambled to provide food for the workers when they were brought into town about two weeks ago.

Pauliszyn said saftey in forestry camps is the responsibility of the ‘contract holder.’

"The contractor setting up the camp must adhere to guidelines for safe food, water, and sanitary conditions. The contractor must receive approval that health conditions are met from IHA Medical Health Officers when the camp is set up. Khaira did not request a permit from Interior Health," he said.

He said Khaira was notified of the contract termination in a face-to-face meeting in Revelstoke July 23 and then by a letter sent the following week.

The contract with the government's B.C. Timber Sales was worth $280,000.

"Funds are being withheld pending the processing of claims with Ministry of Housing and Social Development and the BC Employment Standards Branch," Pauliszyn said. "In addition, as is normal practice, the ministry held a sizeable security deposit from the contractor. Since Khaira failed to comply with their contract, their security deport was forfeited as the ministry now has to do the work that Khaira failed to do."

Khaira owner Khalid Bajwa said he has been treated unfairly by the ministry, who didn't give him an opportunity to correct any camp deficiencies.

"I don't know why they are complaining. We never had problem with our camps. It is a bush camp. It is not a tourist camp," he said. "We were setting up the camp. We had just moved there."

And he said the police went to the camp only because some of the workers were drunk and got into a fight.

He is appealing the loss of his contract, which was supposed to last three years.

"I sent them a letter - why are you cancelling that contract?" Bajwa said.

And he refuted claims that the workers hadn't been paid and he said Khaira has had a good reputation in the industry since it started in 1994.

WorkSafe B.C. has also launched an investigation, official Donna Freeman confirmed Monday.

"We were informed the day that the RCMP were contacted and were removing the workers from the camp," Freeman said. "We did have an officer contact the police authority. We have jurisdiction over workplace health and safety so this was a challenge to us as many of the allegations were around living conditions, sanitation, cleanliness, payment of wages."

The logging camp was within the working area so we do have jurisdiction and we have launched an investigation."

Freeman said the workers were interviewed before they left Golden.

"We did take statements from the parties and obvioulsy that is a key part of our investigation and we are continuing with our investigation," she said.

Forest ministry official Earl Hunt, who works out of Revelstoke, said Khaira is "very experienced with this kind of work. They have had several contracts over the years with us and other parts of the province as well. It is not new to them."

And he said it is the first time he has seen a contract cancelled due to camp conditions.

Links

Economic sectors

Agriculture and horticulture workers

Content types

Policy analysis and Documented cases of abuse

Target groups

Public awareness

Geographical focuses

British Columbia

Languages

English