Saturday, December 6, 2008

Court victory for migrant workers in Vancouver, Canada

The British Columbia and Yukon Territory Building and Construction Trades Council

MEDIA ADVISORY Wednesday December 3, 2008

Temporary foreign workers on Canada Line construction win precedent-setting BC Human Rights Tribunal discrimination complaint decision worth more than estimated $2.4 million against SELI Canada and SNC Lavalin; Building Trades call for better treatment of all temporary foreign workers across Canada

VANCOUVER – A BC Human Rights Tribunal decision today that temporary foreign workers on the Canada Line rapid transit project were discriminated against will force employers and governments to treat all temporary foreign workers fairly, says the BC and Yukon Territory Building and Construction Trades Council (BCYT).

The Tribunal gave the 38 workers from Costa Rica, Colombia and Ecuador an award estimated at more than $2.4 million for back pay and damages for “injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect” because Canada Line contractors SELI Canada and SNC Lavalin paid them significantly less than European employees doing the same work on the $2 billion project.

“The BC Human Rights Tribunal made a decision today that will improve the lives of tens of thousands of temporary foreign workers in Canada forever,” said Wayne Peppard, BCYT Executive Director. “All workers in Canada have rights that must be respected, whether they are Canadian citizens or workers who come here from another country – that’s what this decision means.”

The union that the workers’ joined is thrilled and had a warning for employers who exploit temporary foreign workers.

“Employers across Canada in every type of workplace need to make sure they are treating their workers fairly or they will pay a heavy price,” said Mark Olsen, Business Manager, the Construction and Specialized Workers’ Union, Local 1611 [known as the Labourers’ Union.] “Non-union foreign workers should now feel free to come forward to be represented and protected by unions.”

The CSWU organized the workers, who were mostly from Costa Rica, after Building Trades officials discovered they were making less than $5 an hour working on Canada Line tunnel construction.

BC Federation of Labour President Jim Sinclair said the case will prompt more complaints to the BC Human Rights Tribunal from other BC workers.

“Farmworkers, hotel and hospitality workers and other temporary foreign workers who have been brought to BC and exploited by some unscrupulous employers now have a clear way to improve their lives and win fair wages and working conditions,” Sinclair said. “We will use this decision to help those workers and put an end to employers who want to use them for cheap labour to increase profits.”

Canadian Labour Congress President Ken Georgetti also hailed the decision as having national implications.

“There are tens of thousands of temporary foreign workers being brought into every province in Canada without adequate protection,” Georgetti said. “The BC Human Rights Tribunal decision sets a precedent for the whole country and the federal and provincial governments must now act quickly to ensure these workers’ rights are respected by providing full enforcement.”

Enrique Aguilar, a spokesperson for the temporary foreign workers and cousin to one of them, said the workers have returned to their homes in Costa Rica and thanked the Building Trades and CSWU for their strong support.

“The Building Trades and the CSWU have been incredible in their support for a group of workers from another country who were being exploited here in Vancouver,” Aguilar said. “The workers have asked me to convey their enormous thanks for that support – they could not have done this without the help of labour in BC.”

Charles Gordon of FIorillo, Glavin, Gordon, legal counsel for the CSWU on the Human Rights Tribunal case, said he hopes the precedent set by the decision will avoid similar lengthy and expensive hearings for other workers.

“Temporary foreign workers should not have to rely on extensive litigation or suffer lengthy delays to win their basic human rights in Canada,” Gordon said. “I hope this historic decision will make it much easier for other workers to demand fair treatment and encourage governments to adequately protect those rights.”

Wayne Peppard called upon SELI Canada and SNC Lavalin to drop plans to appeal the BC Human Rights Tribunal decision to the courts – a move he says will further injure the temporary foreign workers.

“These workers have suffered enough - SELI Canada and SNC Lavalin should do the right thing, admit their serious mistakes and pay the workers the back pay and damages they are now owed,” Peppard said. “Forcing the workers through another lengthy judicial process to try and deny them the money they are owed would be cruel and vindictive treatment that these hard working men don’t deserve.”

“There is no justice if the cost of justice is beyond the reach of ordinary workers,” Peppard said, adding that the costs of the BC Human Rights Tribunal hearings and other hearings at the BC Labour Relations Board and Employment Standards to the BCYT and the CSWU is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

For more information: Wayne Peppard, BCYT, +1604-291-9020 or cell +1778-388-0014. Mark Olsen, Labourers 1611 at +1604-432-9300 or cell +1604-341-1799. Charles Gordon, +1604-734-8001. Jim Sinclair, BC Federation of Labour, +1604-430-1421. Ken Georgetti, Canadian Labour Congress, +1613-526-7431. Or Bill Tieleman, West Star Communications, +1604-844-7827 or cell +1778-896-0964.


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