A Richmond, B.C., blueberry farmer who has twice been cited for withholding farm workers’ pay is under investigation again, CBC News has learned.
KNN Blueberries’ owner Kash Nijjer, faces the new complaints from two workers who want to know why Nijjer is still being allowed to bring foreign labour into the country to work on his farm.
Denmar Smith, of Jamaica, came to B.C. under Canada's temporary foreign worker program.
Smith, 32, said he was drawn by the promise of minimum wage as a berry picker, which is more than he could earn for his family as a stone mason back home.
The program also promised that his employer, KNN, would pay his return trip to Jamaica.
Smith said he’s now more than $800 out of pocket in unpaid wages and his airfare.
"You are in your country and they send these contracts to you and you read it and then understand it and say, ‘Okay, maybe I can cope with this,’ and when you come they throw it all away and deal with you totally different," Smith said.
Denmar said that when he complained, he was told he could be deported — never to work in Canada or the U.S. again.
"If we ask for our pay, they keep it longer," he said.
Like 'slavery,' worker says
Fellow Jamaican Olando Milford also worked at KNN and said he, too, is owed about $800.
Milford also claimed he was bullied and belittled.
"They treat us worse than dogs, actually," Milford said. "It seems like I come in slavery."
Both men have now filed official complaints with the B.C. Ministry of Labour.
Their allegations are just the latest against KNN Blueberries and Nijjer, which have faced a total of 33 complaints in the past nine years, most for a failure to keep records.
They also have been penalized seven times and last year were fined $13,000 for violations.
The complaints from the two Jamaican workers remain to be investigated, and their allegations have not been substantiated.
CBC News has tried to reach Nijjer for comment on the workers’ complaints but were told he was in India.
Nijjer’s lawyer said due to time zone differences, it has been difficult to arrange an interview for his client.
Smith and Milford said they want to know why a company with KNN’s history as an employer was able to hire them.
"I wouldn't like anyone from Jamaica to come here in these guys hands," said Smith.
Said Milford: "I am hoping the government stop this guy and let this guy take in no one else."
B.C. Labour Minister Margaret MacDiarmid admitted it can be difficult to track these kinds of problems between the province and Ottawa.
"We need to do the best that we can in order to make sure there is communication between the two levels of government, I certainly wouldn't argue with that," MacDiarmid said.