March 24, 2008

Union calls SLCP-SELI Joint Venture’s Canada Line foreign-worker lay-offs “a set up”

The lay-off of foreign workers on Canada Line construction has affected the hearing of evidence before the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal regarding a complaint about alleged exploitation and discrimination.

The Construction and Specialized Workers’ Union Local 1611 filed a complaint in August 2006 on behalf of foreign workers from Costa Rica, Colombia and Ecuador, who were employed by the SLCP-SELI Joint Venture to construct the Canada Line tunnel in Vancouver.

The complaint to the BC Human Rights Tribunal was filed when the workers realized the terms and conditions of their employment were significantly different and substandard in comparison to their non-Latin American colleagues, who perform identical, similar or less skilled and responsible work.

The Latin American workers, who were hired to operate a tunnel-boring machine on the Canada Line, were notified of being laid off on March 2.

The hearing of evidence before the Tribunal took place on Feb. 13-15, Feb. 19 and March 10, 12 and 13.

The final argument is scheduled for April 10.

Despite the timing of the lay-offs, the Canada Line employer said the lay-offs had no impact on the foreign workers giving evidence before the Tribunal.

“The union’s case has been done for months and they have called all the employees they wanted.

Last week and early this week they called workers to give rebuttal,” said Chris Wates, human resources manager with the SLCP-SELI Joint Venture.

“The workers are still in the country. Some left on their own accord. We gave them the choice when to go home.”

The union claims the workers were given both the carrot and the stick, by being given no place to live and getting the option to go home early with pay.

“After the employer made assurances to the Tribunal to make sure they (the foreign workers) are available, they are told they must go on the night of March 3,” said Kevin Blakley, legal counsel for Local 1611.

“The next hearing date was March 10. On top of this they were told we will pay you until March 13th even if you go home.”

The union said they believe the lay-offs and the departure of witnesses before the scheduled hearing dates affected the manner in which evidence was given before the Tribunal.

“This was a set up. It did affect the Human Rights Tribunal. We had to conduct a video deposition and pay for a court reporter and a videographer. All this was completely unnecessary,” he said.

Wates said the workers were allowed to stay in their accommodation until March 13.

However, the union has produced a letter written in Spanish to the foreign workers that said they must leave by March 6.

The Tribunal ruled on Nov. 9, 2007 that the SLCP-SELI Joint Venture should cease and desist from intimidating, coercing and retaliating against temporary foreign workers who filed the complaint.

The Tribunal also found that the company asked the workers to sign a petition, in “an attempt to intimidate and coerce individual members of the complainant group to withdraw their support for the union to represent them in this complaint.”

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