B.C. tree-planting camp shut amid allegations of abuse
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Wednesday, August 11, 2010 11:05PM EDT
A British Columbia company has had its tree-planting contract terminated, following allegations of "substandard conditions" at one of its base camps.
The Khaira Enterprises work camp at Bluewater Creek, 40 kilometres west of Golden in southeastern B.C. was shuttered after provincial forest ministry staff discovered it in late July.
At least two dozen workers, many of them recent African immigrants, say they were forced to live without proper accomodation, drinking water or sanitary facilities.
The alleged conditions also included threats and racist comments, 15-hour days and bounced paycheques.
According to B.C. Federation of Labor president Jim Sinclair, the workers were virtually trapped at the camp.
With the nearest town some 40 kilometres through the bush, Sinclair said the only possible means of escape was by foot. And even then, the chances of a successful escape were slim.
"If they walked out they still had a problem because, despite the most atrocious conditions, they had no money and their cheques bounced," Sinclair told CTV News Channel.
In a statement, B.C. Labour Minister Murray Coell said the conditions for employees there were "completely unacceptable."
"I am very concerned about the alleged substandard conditions and mistreatment of employees at this forestry work camp," Coell said. He also promised to determine next steps pending the results of the two investigations -- by WorkSafe B.C. and Employment Standards - now underway.
Coell did not, however, directly respond to demands by the B.C. Federation of Labour and the New Democratic Party for an inquiry into conditions at similar operations across the province.
Surrey-based Khaira, which had been fulfilling a $280,000 contract to clear brush in the area, has had its contract terminated and been banned from further bidding for a year.
According to a cached version of the company's website, Khaira Enterprises' employees enjoy "a safe work environment for work, rest and play" and "excellent earning potential."
Benefits employees are told to expect include, "Great camp life; awesome food, shower facilities, great music"
"Yes, the food is awesome, and the people are awesome, but the work is challenging," the website said.
With files from The Canadian Press