The provincial government has launched five separate investigations to uncover how a tree-planting company was allegedly able to ignore provincial laws, according to B.C. Labour Minister Murray Coell.

"What we're looking at is a co-ordinated response, and I think that will help us to ensure that we can make that workplace safer in the future," said Coell.

Earlier this month, employees of Khaira Enterprises accused the company of not providing food, water or washrooms at a tree-planting camp near Golden, B.C.

Some workers also alleged that senior managers threatened employees and kept them as virtual prisoners in the bush, while others said that their paycheques had bounced.


B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair is flanked by forestry workers at a news conference earlier this month. The workers said they had to work in unsafe conditions. ((CBC))

After the allegations came to light, the province cancelled its silviculture contract with the Surrey-based company. Coell says the province has strong labour protection laws, and it expects contractors to obey them.

The B.C. Federation of Labour, which first brought the allegations to light, has called for a single independent public inquiry, instead of the five investigations. Coell said that may still happen.

"There are five different ministries investigating this incident. They will be making recommendations. I don't discount a further inquiry at that time," he said.

However, he offered no insight into why the laws were not enforced and inspections not conducted in the case of Khaira Enterprises.

A group that represents most tree-planting companies in western Canada says the controversy over working conditions at the camp near Golden has hurt the entire sector.  

John Betts, the executive director of the Western Silviculture Contractors' Association, says unethical companies often win government contracts because of B.C.'s policy of accepting the lowest bid for the job.

Betts is urging the government to act with more due diligence before and after awarding contracts.

"The consequences for our sector: first of all, we've taken an unneeded black eye in terms of how the industry really, truly performs," said Betts.

"Our industry is in a tough time right now. It's a fiercely competitive industry, and everyone needs to be competing on an equal footing. We need to have people who are not breaking the law as a way of gaining an advantage in the workplace."