British Columbia

Canada Line tunnel workers exploited, say unions

B.C.'s construction unions say dozens of foreign workers at the Canada Line rapid transit tunnel are the victims of exploitation, receiving less than the minimum wage.

B.C.'s construction unions say dozens of foreign workers at the Canada Line rapid transit tunnel are the victims of exploitation, receiving less than the minimum wage.

The B.C. and Yukon Building and Construction Trades Council says more than 50 workers from Costa Rica, Peru and Colombia are working long hours with no overtime — which works out to a wage of less than $5 an hour.

"We feel that it's important enough that we put everybody on notice that this is absolutely unacceptable. This is scandalous," said the council's executive director, Wayne Peppard.

"We were shocked and appalled to learn that these atrocious wages are being paid to foreign workers here on this RAV line. This is an exploitation of the temporary foreign-worker program."

The council says it's also upset that Canadian union workers are not being used on the tunnel portion of the rapid transit line from downtown Vancouver to Richmond and the airport.

Canada Line spokesman Steve Crombie says no B.C. companies bid on the tunnelling contract. It then went to international bidding, and Seli Tecnologie — an Italian company — won the contract.

Crombie said Seli's employees are "experts in tunnel-boring work, and they have done these projects all over the world.

"And I think what's happening is the building trades are making accusations or suggestions because they're upset because they aren't doing the work."

Crombie also said the workers from Central and South America are being paid "competitive wages" — and specifically denied that the workers are being paid less than $5 an hour.

" I don't know how much they are being paid, but I can tell you it's certainly more than minimum," he said.

The Seli workers will be operating a specialized tunnel-boring machine 24 hours a day for the next two years to complete the five-kilometre tunnel under downtown Vancouver and False Creek by 2008.

The Canada Line is scheduled to open in 2009.