B.C. Federation of Labour President Jim Sinclair called on the RCMP on Monday, Dec. 9 to launch an investigation into Tim Hortons in light of serious allegations of theft and fraud committed against employees who are Temporary Foreign Workers.
According to claims by the workers, their boss at Fernie Tim Hortons demanded cash payments for any overtime wages they received. As well, workers allege they were asked to make payments to cover the employer’s cost for the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
Sinclair said these allegations go well beyond infractions covered by B.C.’s Employment Standards Act, and if true, likely constitute serious criminal offenses.
Richard Pepito has filed a complaint with B.C. Employment Standards Branch against Fernie Tim Hortons. Pepito and his girlfriend, Heidi Kibanoff, were hired in 2009 under Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFW) by Pierre Pelletier, owner of the Fernie Tim Hortons franchise.
Allegations include that Pelletier made TFW employees pay back all or a portion of their overtime wages to him in cash. Pelletier is also accused of charging employees the processing fees for renewing their temporary work permits which, according to regulations, the employer is responsible for paying.
Tim Hortons Public Affairs Manager, Olga Petrycki, commented, “We’re reviewing the allegations and can say that we are treating the matter seriously and are currently conducting a review in full cooperation with B.C. Employment Standards.”
“We have been cooperating since the allegations have come up and are continuing to fully cooperate with B.C. Employment Standards,” said Kristine Hovind–Pelletier, Pierre Pelletier’s wife in a statement to The Free Press.
The Pelletiers could not comment further on the issue as they have been instructed to redirect media to the Tim Hortons head office.
The Pelletier’s are known in the community for sponsoring local Timbits hockey teams and donating to Friends for Friends charity with proceeds from the Smile Cookie campaign. The Pelletier’s also own the Tim Horton’s franchise in Blairmore, Alberta.
Alex Hanson from United Steelworkers Local 9346 said the union was approached 12 days ago by Vancouver-Kensington MLA Mabel Elmore to investigate claims made by current and former workers at the Fernie Tim Hortons’ location.
Alex Hanson, also an executive for the East Kootenay Labour Council said, “We were told they weren’t getting over-time on their regular paycheck. The employer would pay their overtime on a separate check, drive them to the bank to cash the cheque, then ask for some of the cash back telling them it was for their own good.”
“The problem is the employers have too much power over their employees,” said Hanson. “They come here to obtain a better life and the employer is the gatekeeper.”
“We’re asking for local businesses in the East Kootenays to step up and help us find alternative employment for any affected workers,” Hanson said. “This is simply a case of workers in our community stepping up to help other workers in need.”
There are 12 Filipino employees at the Fernie Tim Hortons working under a Temporary Worker Permit.
Worker’s complaints made to the Employment Standards Branch can go through the four routes of resolution, mediation, adjudication and/or penalty. Pepito’s case is scheduled to go before an adjudicator on Feb. 13, 2014 in Kelowna. At that time, penalties may or may not be levied.
“There is rarely a sufficient penalty leveled against the employer by the provincial Employment Standards Branch,” said Sinclair. Despite the federal government’s promise to increase enforcement, and many well-documented cases of exploitation, few employers have been cited for non-compliance.
“This case is yet another example of the shameful exploitation that happens with Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program,” said Sinclair. “And while this case itself warrants an RCMP investigation, the program itself is equally to blame.”
Pepito and Kibanoff resigned from Tim Hortons in the summer of 2013. Both have found new jobs in Fernie. Pepito quickly learned at his new work place that overtime is paid on his regular paycheck.
“We did not know how things were suppose to be in Canada; it was a new country for us.”
“We’re speaking up for the truth and standing up for our rights,” said Pepito, “not just for us but for Filipinos to be treated well and for Temporary Foreign Workers not to be taken advantage of by their employers.”
Kibanoff added, “What we’re fighting for is for all of us, especially for the Filipinos still working there. I’ve been free from that situation for six months, but I still feel the stress and the pain. I feel for the people that are still (working) there. I’ve been in their shoes but I never forget to think about them and their welfare.
“We came to Canada trying to build a better future for us and for our family. I’m just asking for us to be treated fairly with respect and dignity.”
“Local union members are behind these Tim Hortons’ workers 100 per cent,” said Brian Lefebvre from International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 115 (Sparwood). “We want to help any exploited workers escape abuses.
“Until a full and robust series of investigations settle this matter, the labour movement in the Elk Valley will provide legal and moral support for workers stepping forward in these uncertain times.”
East Kootenay Labour Council in conjunction with Steelworkers Local 9346 and Operating Engineers Local 115 are holding a Tim Hortons Worker Support Rally for the community on Sunday, December 15 at the Fernie Arts Station beginning at 1 pm featuring guest speaker MLA Mable Elmore.