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The tunnelling work has been completed and the Latin American foreign workers have since returned to their home countries. ((CBC))

Two builders of the Canada Line rapid transit project discriminated against a group of Latin American workers by paying them less and providing them with inferior accommodations, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal ruled.

The 38 workers from Costa Rica, Colombia and Ecuador were brought in two years ago on temporary work visas to build an underground tunnel as part of the rapid line linking Vancouver and the Vancouver International Airport in Richmond.

The Construction and Specialized Workers' Union launched a complaint on behalf of the foreign workers in August 2006, and the tribunal found the complaint against SELI Canada Inc. and SNC Lavalin Constructors Inc. is "justified."

'You can't bring people from Third World countries, pay them less than you're paying other people on the job site and expect that to be legal.'— Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour

The workers were discriminated against in terms of "salaries, accommodations, meals, and expenses" in comparison to the European workers who did the same work, the tribunal said in a 218-page decision released Wednesday.

The tribunal ruling ordered the companies to pay each worker the difference between the salary paid to them and the salary paid to others, as well as the difference in paid expenses.

The companies were also ordered to pay $10,000 to each worker for injury to their dignity.

The union said Wednesday the estimated compensation amounts to more than $2.4 million.

Companies appeal tribunal's ruling

Peter Gall, who spoke for the two companies, said they have filed an appeal of the ruling in B.C. Supreme Court.

Gall called the ruling "fundamentally flawed" and "absolutely dead wrong."

Union lawyer Charles Gordon said they expect to take the companies to court over the money.

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B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair, right, says the ruling sends a clear message that the rights of foreign workers should be upheld. ((CBC))

The workers have since returned to their home countries and will have to seek an enforcement order the B.C. Supreme Court in order to collect the compensation, the union said.

"They [the foreign workers] can declare this a moral victory even if they don't get the money that they deserve," said Wayne Peppard, executive director of the B.C. and Yukon Territory Building and Construction Trades Council.

The B.C. Federation of Labour said Wednesday's ruling sends a clear message that the rights of foreign workers in the province should be upheld.

"You can't bring people from Third World countries, pay them less than you're paying other people on the job site and expect that to be legal. It's now illegal. It's a form of racism," president Jim Sinclair said.

Gall said the ruling almost entirely leaves out information comparing the wage rates of Canadian and Latin American workers.

"It flies in the face of accepted, well-established international pay practices," he said.

He said it is "standard practice" that if a person come from a low-wage country, he or she is paid the prevailing rate in the new country "and that's what happened here, they were paid the same rate in Canada as the Canadian workers."

Canada Line is a $1.9-billion elevated rapid-transit system that will run between the Waterfront Centre on Burrard Inlet near downtown Vancouver to the Vancouver International Airport in Richmond.

Upon completion in November 2009, it will have 16 stations, two bridges, and approximately 19 kilometres of tunnel.

With files from the Canadian Press