British Columbia

B.C. transit line builders coerced workers, tribunal rules

A group of Latin-American construction workers was intimidated and coerced by companies building the Canada Line, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has ruled.

A group of Latin-American construction workers was intimidated and coerced by companies building the Canada Line, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has ruled.

The 30 foreign workers from Costa Rica, Colombia and Ecuador were brought by the companies to Vancouver to operate the tunnel-boring machine being used to construct parts of the rapid transit line linking Vancouver with Richmond and the international airport.

On Friday, the tribunal found the workers had been pressured to sever ties with the Construction and Specialized Workers' Union Local 1611 by signing a petition put together by company managers.

Two workers testified they were individually called to their manager's office, where they were asked to sign a petition stating they did not want the union to represent them as part of a human rights complaint against their employers, SELI Canada Inc., SNCP-SELI Joint Venture and SNC Laval in Constructors (Pacific) Inc.

The tribunal ruled that when the company asked the workers to sign the petition, it was "an attempt to intimidate and coerce individual members of the complainant group to withdraw their support for the union to represent them in this complaint.

"Second, it was an attempt on the employer's part to create evidence to be used to attack the union's representative status," said the tribunal.

The tribunal found that the employees performed specialized work, operating a tunnel boring machine, and were as a result dependent on the companies for food, housing and future work when the Canada Line construction is completed.

The tribunalupheld the union claim and ordered the company to cease such action and pay half the union's costs of launching the complaint.

Ruling awaited on main complaint

The tribunal notedthe petition should not be considered as part of the main human rights complaint by the union onbehalf of the foreign workers, which deals with the issue of equal pay for equal work.

The union had claimed in 2006 that the company was discriminating against its foreign workers, who are mostly from Latin America, on wages, meals and housing.

That complaint alleges the Latin-American workers are being paid about $14 per hour for the same tasks for whichdomestic workers get $20 to $25 per hour.

Until that complaint is heard, the tribunal has ordered the companies to avoid further contact with the workers except in the course of day-to-day work.

The main complaintto the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has yet to be heard, but the issue also went to the B.C. Labour Relations Board, which ruled earlier this year that the foreign workers were making an equivalent wage to domestic workers, considering that all of their expenses were paid.

Representatives for the companies or the regional transit authority, TransLink, which is overseeing the $2 billion publicly-funded project, could not be reached Tuesday morning by CBC.