Three dozen temporary workers who helped dig the Canada Line say they still haven’t been paid after a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal awarded them more than $2 million because they were paid half what their European counterparts received.
Ignacio Sanchez, a labourer from Costa Rica who was brought in as part of a specialized team, is owed $90,000.
"We worked through two months in a row non-stop every day," he said. "For us, in our eyes, it was discrimination … Some people are getting twice as much as us, doing the same work."
In 2008, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal ruled a group of Latin American workers were discriminated against when they were paid half of what workers who had been brought in from Europe were given.
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The ruling ordered the employers — SNC Lavalin and Seli — to pay each worker the difference between the salary paid to them and the salary paid to others, the difference in paid expenses, and an additional $10,000 for injury to their dignity.
"Some of them were paid less than minimum wages. We won the largest human rights award in the history of Canada — $2.1 million. It’s now up to $2.5 million, but the employer refuses to pay," said Mark Olsen with the Labourers Union.
"It’s continued employer bullying of the temporary foreign workers."
But SNC Lavalin and Seli will argue in B.C. Supreme Court next month that the B.C. Human Rights tribunal got it wrong.
"I think the important point in this case is that the Costa Rican workers made the same as the Canadian workers. When you total up all their compensation, they made the same as the Canadian workers," said Peter Gall, the lawyer representing the two companies.
"The European workers … were making a lot more money in Europe, given labour rates and labour conditions in Europe, so to get them to Canada they had to maintain their existing wages."
Gall says the workers’ pay was based on previous experience and wages, adding the companies have completed projects like this all over the world and never encountered a problem.
"If you bring your workers to a foreign country, is it discriminatory to maintain their pay that they received in their home country? We say it’s not, and that’s the issue in the case."
The union says this case will set a precedent for foreign workers moving forward, as the two companies have been tasked with building the Evergreen Line, another major construction project.