Workers for Khaira Enterprises outside a notorious bush camp near Golden in 2010.

Revelstoke-region bush camp run by Surrey firm a ‘disgrace’

Province still ducking duty to protect tree planters: Sinclair

  • Oct. 3, 2013 6:00 a.m.

Jeff Nagel/Black Press

The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal is hearing allegations that a Surrey silviculture company ran a racially divided camp in the B.C. Interior and subjected its tree planters to slave-like conditions.

The 50 workers – refugees from Congo – want unpaid wages and damages from Khaira Enterprises for being forced to live in what are described as cramped, subhuman conditions near the Golden-Revelstoke area in the summer of 2010.

On the first day of the hearing the lawyer representing the planters told the tribunal the workplace was split on racial lines, with blacks treated differently and forced to work on harder terrain than non-blacks.

B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair gave evidence Wednesday on how the labour organization aided the workers after learning they were underfed, unpaid and subjected to racial slurs.

“This camp was a complete disgrace – the conditions were from another age,” Sinclair said in an interview.

He said other companies that run bush camps continue to treat workers poorly and he blames the provincial government for failing to do more to prevent abuse.

B.C.’s system of awarding silviculture work encourages low-ball bidding and corner cutting on camp conditions without adequate safeguards, Sinclair said.

“The conditions that led to the racism, the extreme conditions, still exists today. The steps necessary to stop this haven’t been taken by the government.”

The province terminated its contract with Khaira after its workers were discovered in squalor, some of them saying they hadn’t eaten in two days, and a series of investigations ensued.

Sinclair noted B.C.’s forest safety ombudsman probed the Khaira case, declared it intolerable and issued a dozen recommendations in 2011 that have largely been ignored, including a call for a more workable system of inspecting camps led by a single agency.

Khaira was ordered to repay more than $236,800 in unpaid wages but Sinclair said workers only got about half of that amount and only because the province withheld the money and redirected it to them.

The co-owners of the Surrey company, Khalid Bashwa and Hardilpreet Sidhu, have denied mistreating workers and questioned why they kept coming back for contract work if they were unhappy.

Sinclair dismissed that argument, adding what’s remarkable is that the workers essentially went on strike and refused to work even though they were denied food until they were discovered and rescued.

“These are refugees trying to make a buck to survive in Canada, their new country. They don’t speak the language that well. They don’t know their rights and they’re really vulnerable to being exploited. We have to be on guard, we owe it to these people to make sure it doesn’t happen.”

The tribunal is expected to continue for several weeks.

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Revelstoke Rotary Club celebrates over 90 years of service

Globally, there are over 1 million Rotary members

UPDATE: Revelstoke City Council gives themselves a raise, councillor resigns in protest

The mayor’s pay is set to go from $30,000 to $60,000 over three years

Highway 1 closed near Golden

DriveBC estimates the road to reopen at 1 p.m.

Rain for Revelstoke

Temperature hovering around zero for today

Revelstoke City Councillor Steven Cross resigns

Cross said he cannot support council giving themselves a raise

UBCO students raise funds for those affected by Philippine volcano eruption

All proceeds will be donated to the Philippine Red Cross

Manitoba RCMP spent less than $800K on massive manhunt for Port Alberni men

Manitoba RCMP helped with 17-day search through the province’s northern terrain

Empty speedboat sinks off Kelowna shore on Okanagan Lake

This is the third report of a boat found in the lake in the past two weeks

Man killed by police in Lytton called 911, asking to be shot: RCMP

Howard Schantz, also known as Barry Schantz was killed following a standoff at his Lytton home

Kelowna General Hospital takes steps to prevent spread of coronavirus

So far, at least six people have died and 275 people have contracted the virus worldwide

Pumphouse project puts North Okanagan taps back on Kal

The capital project at the Kal Lake Pump House to make it flood-resistant is near completion

Canadian public health agencies ramping up preparations in response to new virus

Health officials have said there are no confirmed cases of the emerging coronavirus in Canada

Vehicle fire occurred outside of fire departments’ coverage areas

Neither Summerland nor Peachland detachments attended incident at Okanagan Lake Provincial Park

A Shuswap mortgage investment corporation faces BC Securities hearing

Securities commission alleges misrepresentations and false or misleading statements in documents

Most Read