Employers in British Columbia are legally obligated to comply with employment standards and provide safe work environments. They must always honour workers’ rights and protections. Following the disclosure of employment standards violations in a case in which a wealthy British Columbia family were found to have committed wage theft against 174 foreign workers, the Minister of Labour connected recent Employment Standards Act amendments with the prevalence of these kinds of complaints.
The payment order of the Employment Standards Branch arose from a third-party complaint submitted on behalf of a number of foreign workers recruited to work 40-hour work weeks for the entire six-month period of their contracts on an agricultural property. However, after one month of full-time work, the employees’ work hours were significantly reduced. The Employment Standards Branch ordered the employer to pay back wages, vacation pay and interest.
The same third-party complaint on behalf of the workers alleged that the farm employees had to deal with threats, unsanitary living conditions and abuse. The employer was fined an additional $500 for violating the law, and $53,000 for transporting the workers in an unsafe vehicle. Similar safety violations formed the basis of a WorkSafeBC fine exceeding $125,000 in 2011, which followed an inspection of another facility owned by the same employer.
Foreign workers in British Columbia may not be aware of their legal rights, and may be hesitant to report workplace problems for fear of jeopardizing their status in Canada. However, there are various remedies to recover unpaid wages and address other violations. Foreign workers are encouraged to discuss their concerns with a lawyer who is experienced in dealing with all labour and employment matters, including fighting to protect an employee’s rights.