Last week, an Employment Standards Branch Division in Canada awarded $229,000 to 57 tree planters for wage and hour violations – including vacation pay and overtime owed.
The workers for Khaira Enterprises allegedly spent several months last year laboring under grueling conditions. They were grossly underpaid, forced to toil without being adequately fed, compelled to share dirty toilets and work up to 15 hours a day. In addition, employment discrimination and harassment may have occurred. According to a report in the Vancouver Sun: “one man said an employer threw a knife at him… they also complained of racial slurs.”
Here are some ghastly highlights from the Vancouver Sun story (January 4, 2011) about the wage and hour violations at Khaira Enterprises:
• “The toilets were grossly inadequate to meet the needs of the number of workers.”
• “The company… deducted $25 a day from paychecks for food and accommodation – even if [workers] brought their own food.”
• Workers were not paid for holidays or time to travel between sites. Owners of the company were fined merely $3,500 for their mistreatment of the employees..
• Employees’ accommodations were unventilated storage containers.
• The camp sites were “unhygienic and unacceptable.”
• Employees were provided with unsanitary drinking water.
• Workers had a difficult time filing for unemployment and assistance because “the company recorded fewer hours than they had worked.”
A spokesperson for the Federation of Labor for British Columbia called the fine against owners Khalid Bajwa and Hardilpreet Sidhu “a joke” given the deplorable conditions the employees suffered.
What’s remarkable about the tree planters’ case is that the workers might never have gotten help had outside advocates not stepped in. Even though Canada does not lack a vigorous regulatory system to enforce labor standards, these workers either didn’t know about this system or didn’t know how to leverage it on their behalf.
The above case illustrates a key problem. Employees forced to work under squalid or unfair conditions – or who are subjected to sexual harassment, racial discrimination, or retaliation for complaining about abuse – can wind up suffering a kind of “Stockholm syndrome.” They may even make up excuses for their unfair employers. Indeed, often the hardest part of ending a wage and hour violation situation is that first call for help. The thought of having to go up against an employer who has tyrannized you and your coworkers can be intimidating and scary.
Fortunately, you don’t have to fight your own battles. An experienced and powerful law firm, like Joseph & Kirschenbaum, can provide you with a confidential free case evaluation at (212) 688-5640. You can also learn more about your rights and the law www.jhllp.com.