Two former employees of a Tim Hortons in small-town British Columbia say their employer took advantage of their status as temporary foreign workers to cheat them out of overtime pay, and to pressure them to keep quiet about it.
Heide Kibanoff and her boyfriend, Richard Pepito, say Pierre Pelletier hired them and other Filipinos under Canada's Temporary Foreign Worker Program to work at the Tim Hortons in Fernie, where they often put in long hours.
The pair allege that Pelletier often made sure that the overtime that was paid came back to him — in cash.
"He will issue a cheque to us and then what he wants is you cash the cheque, and after you cash the cheque you give the money back to him," Pepito said.
Kibanoff told CBC News about how, on pay day, Pelletier would drive her and other employees to the bank and waited while they cashed their cheques. He would then allegedly ask for a portion of it back.
Kibanoff said she did as her boss instructed because she had an application underway in the Provincial Nominee Program — a fast track to permanent residency in Canada.
"All was I thinking was that I don't wanna go home, and he said it's to protect us and he's doing us a favour," she said.
B.C. MLA Mabel Elmore, who has met with Kibanoff and Pepito, says their story is all too common among foreign workers in Canada.
"They are dependent on their employers. They often don't know their rights," Elmore said.
"They are reluctant to raise concerns because they don't want to lose their jobs and be sent back, and I understand that was a very consistent threat against these workers."
Kibanoff left her job at Tim Hortons in June, but said she's still haunted by the painful memories.
"It feels like even if I'm not working there anymore he can still try to threaten us through other people that he knows," she told CBC News.
Pepito also quit, and filed a complaint with the B.C. Employment Standards Branch.
The couple said that, since then, they've been harassed and intimidated, and that their friends who still work under Pelletier have asked them to withdraw the complaint.
Head office investigating
When reached by phone Wednesday, both Pelletier and his wife said this was the first they had heard of the allegations.
However, documents obtained by CBC News show an internal investigation into Pelletier is already underway at the head office of Tim Hortons.
"This matter has been brought to our attention. We are treating it seriously and are currently conducting a review in full cooperation with B.C. Employment Standards," Tim Hortons's corporate office said in a written statement.
Pelletier is also accused of making the employees pay the $550 fee required for him to obtain the results of Service Canada's labour market opinion surveys, which is a required step in order for him to be permitted to hire foreign workers. According to regulations, the employer is responsible for paying those fees.
The B.C. Employments Standards Branch said the investigation is ongoing.
A hearing date has been set for February, which won't come soon enough for Kibanoff and Pepito.
"It's not even the money anymore," Kibanoff said. "We don't even care about that, but I think that it's more than a strong case than what we're emotionally dealing right now. Like, it makes us feel unhealthy, stressed, exhausted, depressed."