Wednesday, August 11, 2010


This might be filed under the "and you thought your boss was bad" category. The following story from the Globe & Mail tells of the horrifying conditions that were found at a tree planting camp out in BC. Seems the owners of the camp lured new immigrants to Canada, most of them originally from Africa, out there with promises of high wages. The reality was quite different. Here's the story>>>>
Provincially-contracted company accused of depriving workers of food and water

Deprived of food, water and toilets, 30 workers, most recent immigrants, have been rescued from a remote forestry camp in Golden, B.C. The "nightmare" has the BC Federation of Labour calling on the government to step up monitoring and enforcement of safety standards.

Workers say they endured 15-hour work days, death threats and food shortages and were forced to sleep in unventilated shipping containers
Published on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2010 9:33PM EDT
Last updated on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2010 1:45AM EDT

When Edour Nabulizi immigrated to Canada from Zimbabwe in 2005, he expected a paradise – but a summer at a B.C. forestry camp revealed a disturbing reality.

“What do you know, there’s no paradise on this Earth,” said the 16-year-old from Winnipeg, who was enticed to British Columbia by the promise of long hours and high wages.

Deprived of food, water and toilets, Mr. Nabulizi was one of 30 employees who say they were rescued from a remote forestry camp near Golden, B.C. last month. They say they endured 15-hour work days, death threats and food shortages and were forced to sleep in unventilated shipping containers.

To top it off, the employees say they have still not been fully paid for the brush-clearing work they performed.

The “nightmare” has the B.C. Federation of Labour calling on the province to investigate. “Under government money, funded by the public, these people were allowed to be treated like third-class citizens in a Third World country,” said labour federation president Jim Sinclair. “The only way to stop that is to investigate why no one enforced any of the rules.”

The labour watchdog also wants the company banned from working in B.C., back pay for employees and accurate employment records issued.

The forestry camp was run by Khaira Enterprises Ltd., a tree-planting company that held a $280,000 contract with the government’s BC Timber Sales.

“The conditions described are completely unacceptable for employees,” Minister of Labour Murray Coell said in a statement.

The ministry helped the employees leave the site, put them up in a hotel and provided them with bus tickets home on July 21. Now, WorkSafeBC and the Employment Standards Branch are investigating and will work to ensure all workers are paid, Mr. Coell said.

The Forests Ministry pulled the company’s contract on July 23 after a camp inspection revealed the conditions.

Safety in forestry camps – including safe food, water and sanitary conditions – is the responsibility of the contract holder, who must get a permit from the local health authority, according to Forests Ministry spokesman Robert Pauliszyn.

The ministry inspects the camps once they are open, and inspected the Khaira site on July 21. Khaira Enterprises did not have a health permit, according to Mr. Pauliszyn.

The company is also banned from bidding on timber contracts in the region for a year.

Khalid Bajwa, manager of the company, denied the employees’ allegations about work conditions, saying construction was not complete on the camp. Mr. Bajwa also said he has the bank records to prove he issued cheques, although he refused to provide them to The Globe and Mail.

“They know they don’t have enough hours and they can’t get EI, so they are complaining,” he said.

But Christine Barker, a single mother from Quesnel, says she has not been paid what she is owed. “We have no way of feeding our families,” she said.

Ms. Barker and her fellow employees demanded their pay on July 17, but she says the employer refused to drive them into Golden to cash pay cheques. The employees responded with a work stoppage. “We felt as though we were held as hostages,” Ms. Barker said.

They finally got out on when they started to burn garbage illegally, which was noticed by recreational fishermen and reported to the Forests Ministry.
Now one might say that Khaira Enterprises is a particularily bad apple, and that would be true but.... Employers such as these only get away with what they do because of the connivance of government. Across Canada governments deliberately exclude immigrant farm labour from labour standards. To make matters worse they throw up all possible barriers to the one thing that could improve the lot of such workers...unionization. Should an employer be caught in an especially flagrant violation of not just labour laws but human rights the penalties are minor. In the case of Khaira Enterprises the BC government has cancelled this one contract for tree planting and suspended the company from bidding on any further government contracts for the "astoundingly long" period of one year. The malefactors are undoubtedly trembling in their boots. The BC Federation of Labour has called for the company to be shut down and for an independent investigation. The government has so far resisted both demands. Here's the story from the BC Fed>>>>>
Federation investigation uncovers nightmare in the woods
August 10, 2010
The B.C. Federation of Labour is calling on the provincial government to shut down and launch an independent investigation into Surrey-based Khaira Enterprises following allegations of widespread abuse of silviculture workers.

A Khaira Enterprises workcamp at Bluewater Creek, 40 kilometres west of Golden, was shut down on July 21st when it was discovered by a Conservation Officer and Ministry of Forests worker who were investigating reports of illegal burning. Company owners and about 28 workers were found at the squalid camp. The workers had no money, no transportation and were unable to leave the remote site. The RCMP was also called in to investigate.

"We have met with about a dozen people who worked at Khaira Enterprises this spring and summer and the stories they tell are absolutely shocking," says Jim Sinclair. "We have pieced together a story that seems from another century."

The former Khaira employees report:
• no safe drinking water at camp, workers told to drink from a nearby creek;
• no toilet facilities at the camp;
• daily shortage of food and malnourished workers, breakfast consisted of bread, jam and peanut butter, no lunch provided;
• improper food handling, unrefrigerated chicken served most nights;
• unsafe transportation of workers in overloaded and unsafe vehicles;
• underpayment and non-payment of wages including cheques returned by banks due to insufficient funds;
• Employment Standards violations including the misrepresentation of hours worked;
• physical and verbal abuse of workers;
• workplace racism;
• death threats to workers;
• refusal of adequate medical treatment for injured workers; and
• failure to report workplace injuries to WCB.

Most of the Khaira workers are Canadian citizens or permanent residents originally from Burundi and the Republic of Congo.

"This camp was only discovered and shut down because of reports of an illegal fire during a fire ban. We need an independent investigation to explain how these working conditions were allowed to continue in British Columbia in this day and age so we can prevent it from happening again," says Sinclair. "While this investigation is underway, Khaira needs to be shut down to prevent further abuse."

"These workers are owed thousands of dollars in salary from Khaira. They need immediate financial assistance from the government in the event that Khaira's owners continue to refuse to pay the wages or if they are unable to pay them," Sinclair added.

For more information, or to arrange interviews with the workers: Evan Stewart, Director of Communications (604) 220-3095.
Before moving on to the final story from the online magazine The Tyee Molly would like to give out the following information. Commentators on the following story have noted that this company will probably simply fold up and reopen under a different name. The company website is now "blank". I was, however, able to dig up the following contact details:
Khaira Enterprises
13011 96A Ave.
Surrey BC
V3T 5N3

I'm sure they would appeciate hearing from you about how they treat their workers.

One reason the government may be hestitant about a full inquiry is that Khaira Enterprises has been a long standing supplier of labour to the province. According to the Power Profiles site they have been in business for 10-20 years with total sales of $2,000,000. As far back as 1999 they were listed as being paid $219,288 by the province. Even more astoundingly in March 2009 they were certified as 'Safe Certified' by BC Forest Safety. The latter is a quanga set up of mainly industry and government representatives but also with a nominal union representation.

So, unless you believe that Khaira Enterprises suddenly "went rogue" during the past year then you have to conclude that this sort of thing has been going on under the noses of the government boards that are supposed to prevent such things for over a decade. Now that might be the subject of an independent inquiry. How many other Khairas are there in BC ?
On to the Tyee story>>>>
Call to Investigate Forest Camp 'Nightmare'
Workers tell of ordeal as BC Fed demands probe into why protections weren't enforced.

By Ryan Elias, Today,

On July 21, 28 workers from a forestry camp near Golden were rescued from brutal working conditions.

Now the B.C. Federation of Labour is calling for an investigation into how the camp's conditions managed to escape detection. Surrey-based Khaira Enterprises operated the camp under a government contract with a safety certificate through B.C. Timber Sales.

"It's clear that these people were not protected, it's clear that enforcement failed," Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair said. "Now we have to find the answer of how to fix that so that no other worker has to go through this experience."

Since the camp seems to have operated entirely under the radar, Sinclair said, there's no way to be certain how long these conditions had existed in Khaira Enterprises' camps, nor if there are others out there with similar conditions.

"It was sanctioned by the government because there was no enforcement to change it, and it went on for years," Sinclair said after the press conference. "Now we have a chance to change it and shame on us if we don't. Shame on this government and shame on British Columbia if we don't now find out how this happened and stop it from happening again."

The camp, located on Bluewater Creek about 40 kilometres from Golden, had no drinking water or toilet facilities. The workers slept in a pair of shipping containers and cleared brush seven days a week for ten to 14 hours, plus hours of travel time, with minimal breaks.

'We felt as though we were held hostage'

"We were very lucky to run into creeks in some of our blocks," said one worker, 24-year-old Christine Barker, a single mother. "It was a relief for us because we were not allowed to leave the block, the workplace. . . We'd literally sip from the creek so we'd have at least water."

Workers were given breakfasts of peanut butter and jam and dinners of unrefrigerated chicken and rice, with no meals in between. Much of the food they did receive was spoiled, said another worker, Jean-Claude Nabulizi of Winnipeg.

"The food itself was not sufficient," Nabulizi said. "But when we complained that we were not satisfied, the boss said 'there's nothing else I can do, let's call it a day, we're gonna see about tomorrow.' You can't complain that much because if they kick you out of the camp you're on your own. You've got nowhere to go."

Khaira Enterprises charged them a daily $25 camp fee. Barker said the camp's boss and supervisors lived separately and had their own cook.

"I've never heard of anything like it. To be honest with you, I've never heard these kind of outright gross working conditions anywhere. And in a camp funded by the government," Sinclair said.

Where workers slept: mats crammed into box-like quarters. Photo: BC Fed.
The workers, most of whom are citizens or permanent residents from Burundi or the Republic of Congo, say they were mostly or in some cases entirely unpaid. When they were issued partial paycheques on July 17, they were refused transportation from the site to cash them. And when they stopped working to protest their treatment, they were denied food.

"We felt as though we were being held as hostages," said Barker.

RCMP failed to connect: worker

Another worker contacted the RCMP, said Barker, but the officer he spoke to misheard him when he gave their location. The camp's on-site manager simply didn't answer his phone when the police called him, she said.

Barker walked into town to call for help, but it was a group of recreational fishers who ultimately drew the authorities to the camp. The fishers contacted the Ministry of Forests on July 21 when they saw that the camp was burning garbage, and the workers were moved out shortly thereafter.

The rescued workers were fed by a church in Golden and lodged in a local motel before traveling home on bus tickets provided by the province. Without that help, Barker said, many of them wouldn't have had the money to get home.

Ban firm from province says BC Fed

The ministry has taken away Khaira Enterprises' license for a year, but the Federation of Labour is demanding that the company be permanently banned from operating in British Columbia. Sinclair said that they are also asking for full back-pay for the workers, amounting to tens of thousands of dollars overall. He said that if Khaira Enterprises can't pay, the province should step up.

"They were working for British Columbians, in their forests, under a government contract," Sinclair said.

Khaira Enterprises has also filed records of employment that indicate that the workers quit, which Sinclair said must be amended so that the workers will qualify for unemployment insurance.

At present, most of the workers are broke. Barker said she has about $40 to her name and is looking into social assistance to help her family.

Though the Tyee attempted them to contact them, Khaira Enterprises had not returned a request for comment by press time.

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