Foreign workers who allege they paid thousands of dollars to secure non-existent jobs at Mac's convenience stores have had their claims certified as a class action lawsuit in B.C. Supreme Court.

The four workers named in the suit allege they paid as much as $8,500 each in illegal fees to Surrey-based immigration consultant firms to obtain jobs as temporary foreign workers in Western Canada, according to court documents.

"Shortly after arriving in Canada, each of the [representative plaintiffs] learned that there was no job for them at Mac's," Justice Arne Silverman wrote in his reasons for certifying the suit.

'A disturbing case'

Under Canada's temporary foreign worker program, immigration consultants are not permitted to charge fees for job placement and any recruitment costs must be paid by the employer.

The workers allege that as many as 450 people — mainly from Nepal and the Philippines — had similar experiences when they were recruited by consultants in Dubai.

"This is a disturbing case of how low income workers spent their life savings to try to find a better life in Canada through a job at Mac's Convenience Stores but instead found they had lost their money and most had no employment," lawyer Carmela Allevato said in a news release.

Carmela Allevato, Vancouver lawyer

Carmela Allevato is one of the lawyers representing the workers. (CBC)

Three companies that operate out of the same building in Surrey — Overseas Career and Consulting Services Ltd. (OCCS), Overseas Immigration Services Inc., and Trident Immigration Services Ltd. — are all named as defendants in the suit, alongside Mac's.

According to Silverman's decision, "Each of the defendants deny wrongdoing on their own behalf, and deny any responsibility for whatever wrongdoings, if any, that any of the other defendants may have committed."

The convenience store chain maintains it contracted with OCCS in 2012 to recruit temporary foreign workers but never authorized it or any other company to collect fees to secure employment, according to court documents.

Mac's claims its understanding was that any payments made by the workers were for general assistance navigating the Canadian immigration system and that all of the prospective employees were advised not to travel to Canada unless they received confirmation that jobs were available.

For their part, the immigration companies have denied charging fees for job placement but said most of the workers decided to retain OCCS for "immigration and settlement services."

Foreign workers exploited, lawyers say

The workers' lawyers allege that the case points to systemic issues with the temporary foreign worker program that leave desperate people open to abuse.

"There have been multiple documented cases of temporary foreign workers being exploited by unscrupulous employers, underpaid and denied basic labour rights because of their status in Canada," lawyer Susanna Quail said in a statement.

"There are serious problems with the temporary foreign workers program that have not been fixed."

None of the allegations in the lawsuit have been proven in court, and lawyers for Mac's and the immigration consultation firms all declined to comment.

With a file from the Canadian Press