The B.C. Federation of Labour is calling for an independent investigation after workers on a government contract were found to be living and working in unsafe and primitive conditions.
The employees of a forestry company, Khaira Enterprises Ltd., say that while they were clearing brush and tree planting at a job site near Golden, B.C., in July, they weren't provided with safe drinking water, adequate food or bathroom facilities.
They also claimed they were subject to racist comments and even death threats from their supervisors.
After the complaints were lodged, the province investigated the worksite and terminated its contract with Khaira. It also prohibited the Surrey-based company from bidding on any government projects for one year.
But the government needs to do more, federation president Jim Sinclair said Tuesday.
"These conditions should not be allowed to exist in British Columbia," Sinclair told a Vancouver news conference.
"Under government money, funded by the public, these people were allowed to be treated like third-class citizens in a Third World country. And the only way we're going to stop that is to investigate why no one enforced any of the rules."
Sinclair said Khaira failed to obtain a health permit or inform WorkSafe B.C. and the Ministry of Forests about the project.
Owner denies allegations
"Most of our crew, we felt as if we were held as hostages, we felt like prisoners," said tree planter Christine Barker.
The 30 workers were in a remote area of eastern B.C. with no money or transportation and were completely at the mercy of their employers, she said.
Barker said when they complained they did not have drinking water, they were told to drink from a creek. She also said many workers were never paid.
Company owner Khalid Bajwa denies Barker's claims.
"This is not any issue about the food" or water, Bajwa told CBC News. "This is totally fake allegation.
"The work camp is different than the tourism camp," he added. "This is a work camp. We just go to work, not for a picnic."
Bajwa said he is considering his legal options in light of the government's actions against his company.