Construction companies want the Manitoba government to step in and end what they believe are unfair advantages given to Hutterite-owned competitors.

Colonies don't have to pay their Hutterite workers wages, and critics say that allows them to undercut regular businesses in terms of pricing.

"When the playing field is different and there's advantages that are outside of something we could do, that's when we don't like the competition," said Gino Koko, general sales manager of Vicwest, a company that manufactures metal building products.

'They should take their employees, build them a house, furnish it, feed them and totally look after their living expenses. They'd be surprised.' —Jonathan Wollmann

The encroachment of Hutterite-operated companies into the Manitoba construction materials marketplace has been growing over the last three to five years, Koko said.

"Every year they gain a bit more market share and they gain a bigger customer base," Koko said.

"It takes away from companies such as ourselves who are operating under different circumstances or under different rules and regulations."

There are two Manitoba colonies that compete with Vicwest: Domtek, owned by the Newdale Colony near Brandon, and Can-American Corrugating Corp., run by the CanAm colony near Margaret.

Domtek employs 10 colony members as staff and six non-colony administrators.

An official with the Manitoba Finance Department said adult colony members who work for colony businesses are not considered employees. Instead, they're more like self-employed agents who share in the profits of an enterprise.

They pay income taxes but are not subject to health or post-secondary tax levies and don't pay into the Workers Compensation pool or Employment Insurance.

Lifelong costs

Koko said he wants the laws to change in order to level the playing field. 

But those involved in running Domtek say the labour costs they bear are huge.

"We have to pay [the workers]," said Jonathan Wollmann, the assistant minister of the Newdale Colony. "Not in the form of money — we pay them with a well-furnished house [and] three, four, five meals a day," he said.

"They should take their employees, build them a house, furnish it, feed them and totally look after their living expenses. They'd be surprised," Wollmann said of Koko's criticism.

Manitoba Labour Minister Jennifer Howard agreed that Hutterite-run businesses have costs that so-called regular businesses don't.

"I understand that concern from other businesses — that they have to pay things that other people don't — but I do think it's a different system on a Hutterite colony," Howard said.

"They pay for the education system on that colony, so it's a challenge and I don't think any provincial jurisdiction has it completely figured out," she said.

With files from the CBC's Louise Charette