Indian migrant workers file complaint to Ministry of Labour over unpaid wages from Toronto temple

Two migrant workers from India who say they faced harsh living conditions and were drastically underpaid as sculptors at a Hindu religious charity organization in Toronto are seeking thousands of dollars in unpaid wages from the Carnforth Road-based temple.

Sekar Kurusamy and Suthakar Masilamani allege they are owed more than $66K

Sridurka Hindu Temple's chief priest Rev. Kanaswami Thiagarajahkurukkal is alleged to have treated workers poorly. (Facebook)

Two migrant workers from India who say they faced harsh living conditions and were drastically underpaid as sculptors at a Hindu religious charity organization in Toronto are seeking thousands of dollars in unpaid wages from the Carnforth Road-based temple.

In a complaint to Ontario's Ministry of Labour, a copy of which has been obtained by CBC News, Sekar Kurusamy and Suthakar Masilamani allege the Sridurka Hindu Temple owes them $66,121.74 in unpaid wages, unpaid public holiday pay, unpaid vacation pay and termination pay from Sridurka Hindu Temple.

Kurusamy and Masilamani, who are back in their home country, have retained Parkdale Community Legal Services to represent them.

The lawyer in charge of the case, John No, said based on the Employment Standards Act claim, the minister of labour will likely commence an investigation into the matter.

"The Ministry of Labour will conduct the investigation themselves and then they will make a determination whether there are wages owing," No said.

"If either party [is] dissatisfied with the decision of the minister of labour, then they can file an appeal to the Ontario Labour Relations Board," No said.

The Ontario Labour Relations Board is a specialized tribunal that deals with employment standards issues.

While the board generally takes between eight and 10 months to conclude such investigations, No said he is hoping that the minister of labour will expedite the process on the men's behalf.

Kurusamy and Masilamani were among four men from India hired to execute part of a $1.2-million renovation to the temple's gopuram — similar to a steeple on a church.  

The men said that for a six-month period, from April 2017 to October 2017, they started work at 8 a.m., without being fed, and no food was made available until two to three hours into the shift. They said they sculpted and painted one of the most holy parts of the temple during the day, and by night, they would languish in the basement of the building, sleeping on cots by the boiler.

Tamil workers say all four of them were forced to sleep in the basement next to the boiler. (Tamil Workers Network)

Tamil labour advocate Ram Selvarajah said it is the first time in his experience that his Tamil Workers Network is seeing a case where there is so much money owed to migrant workers.

He said they have located the other two workers and are now awaiting documentation from them and authorization to file a claim on their behalf as well.

"The only reason that only two have filed is that these were the two workers that we were immediately able to contact when they were sent to India. We had trouble contacting the other two," Selvarajah said.

"It took us a while to get a hold of them but we didn't want to delay this any longer so we proceeded with the two we got and then we are now just waiting for the documentation from the other two," he said.

Tamil labour advocate Ram Selvarajah said it is the first time in his experience that his Tamil Workers Network is seeing a case where there is so much money owed to migrant workers. (CBC News)

CBC News reached out to the Sridurka Hindu Temple for comment on the lawsuit but got no response.

The Sridurka Hindu Temple was also contacted when CBC News first reported the men's allegations in January.

At that time, the temple refused an interview request with chief priest Rev. Kanaswami Thiagarajahkurukkal, but in a statement the temple said temporary workers have been brought to Canada for the past five years to complete religious sculpting work.

The temple says "no overtime work was done" and the workers were housed on the premises "for ease of access to the construction site, to reduce the time required for commuting, [provide] access to meals and access to the temple for their spiritual needs.

"Over the past five years, our religious sculptor workers have never expressed concerns or made any complaints to us regarding the living conditions," the statement said. "Our employee satisfaction survey in the past years indicates that sculptor workers are satisfied with the wages, working environment and residence facilities.

"We would like to clarify that no workers were ever verbally attacked, physically shoved or pushed by any of our staff."

The Tamil migrants say they were forced to sleep on four cots in one room in the basement of the temple. (Tamil Workers Network)

No said the claim on behalf of Kurusamy and Masilamani is not meant to focus entirely on Sridurka Hindu Temple, but also on weaknesses in the Federal Temporary Foreign Worker Program that lead to exploitation of workers.

"To us it's not an issue of one bad apple or one bad employer," No said.

"We're trying to highlight that these workers are put in a precarious situation where they are easily susceptible to exploitation because of the federal Temporary Foreign Worker Program where they are forced to only work for one employer."