A group of temporary foreign workers from the Philippines will have their complaints over alleged discrimination at the Fernie Tim Hortons heard by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.
The workers, represented by the United Steelworkers (USW), claim former Tim Hortons franchisee Pierre Pelletier made employees pay back a portion of their overtime wages in cash. Other allegations include that workers were required to rent pricey, substandard housing, given undesirable shifts and threatened with being kicked out of the country.
“While it’s unfortunate that a failure by our provincial and federal governments to enforce the law leaves vulnerable foreign workers with little to no recourse, [this] decision affirms there can be a path to justice no matter where you are from or what your status in our country is,” said Stephen Hunt, USW’s Western Canada Director.
“It’s not easy for any worker, union or non-union, Canadian citizen or permanent resident, to bring forward a complaint against their employer,” he continued. “It’s even harder for a temporary worker whose very presence in our country is in the hands of the boss.”
USW Local 9346, based in Sparwood, was approached by the temporary foreign workers last year, looking for assistance with their allegations. An investigation prompted the union to retain legal counsel and launch a representative human rights complaint on behalf of the workers. President Alex Hanson is happy with the Human Rights Tribunal’s acceptance of the case.
“I think it’s a good thing,” he remarked. “Obviously in this case we’re seeking more than just justice. We continue to want to put pressure on a program, which at the end of the day, we believe is set up for abuse.”
He added, “It will be a long road to the tribunal itself, it could take years, but we’re on the right path.”
This not the first time the USW has worked against the Temporary Foreign Workers program. The union shed light on how the program precluded Canadians from jobs at HD mining in Tumbler Ridge, B.C., and was the first organization to offer support to RBC employees who were asked to train foreign workers taking their jobs. The USW has also assisted temporary workers complaining of abuse by employers at McDonalds and Subway franchises in B.C.
The government recently announced changes to the program, which Hanson doesn’t feel has fixed the issue.
“In trying to deal with the problem that [the federal government] themselves created, essentially all they did was make it smaller and sort of put it off into a corner. Unfortunately, we still have employees that are connected to employers; that’s wrong. We have employer led immigration; that’s wrong too,” explained Hanson. “Why would we let people who sell donuts decide who gets to come and go, and who gets to be a citizen in our country? That’s a complete and total train wreck still waiting to happen.”
No dates or timeline have been set for the tribunal.
The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has also accepted a similar complaint about tenancy from Mexican employees at a Dawson Creek Tim Hortons.