Quebec BRP plant hit with 76 workplace violations, most related to wages

An exterior shot of the BRP plant in Valcourt, Que., in the Eastern Townships.  (Graham Hughes/La Presse canadienne - image credit)
An exterior shot of the BRP plant in Valcourt, Que., in the Eastern Townships. (Graham Hughes/La Presse canadienne - image credit)

Quebec's workplace safety board says a Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP) plant in the province's Eastern Townships has paid some of its workers less than the legal minimum wage.

Through an Access to Information request, Radio-Canada has learned that 76 statements of offence were issued to the Valcourt, Que., plant in August for infractions that allegedly took place between December 2021 and November 2022.

According to the labour board — the Commission des normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST) — BRP also failed to increase the hourly rate for overtime by 50 per cent and failed to issue pay slips at the same time as wages.

According to the documents reviewed by Radio-Canada, BRP's Valcourt plant was hit with:

  • 25 statements of offence for non-compliance with the legal minimum wage.

  • 25 statements of offence for failing to increase overtime pay by 50 per cent.

  • 25 statements of offence for failure to issue pay slips.

  • One statement of offence for failing to keep a register of workers.

The CNESST is criticizing the multinational for failing to keep a register of all its employees for a period of one year, despite the law requiring employers to keep one with information such as the number of hours worked per pay period for all employees.

BRP workers from Mexico paid less

BRP previously told Radio-Canada that it had employed around 160 Mexican workers at its Valcourt plant in 2022.

In February, Radio-Canada revealed that temporary foreign workers from BRP plants in Mexico who came to help out at the Valcourt plant were paid about four times less than their Quebec colleagues.

According to pay stubs provided by three workers, hourly wages ranged from $5.50 to $7.25. The Quebec minimum wage was $14.25 an hour at the time.

According to the CNESST investigation, BRP paid some workers less than the legal minimum wage in Quebec between December 2021 and November 2022.  (Radio-Canada)

At the time, BRP said that since the cost for accommodation and food was covered for temporary foreign workers, their pay was reduced by 60 per cent in fairness to their Quebec colleagues.

The documents provided by the CNESST to Radio-Canada could not confirm whether the violations concerned the situations of temporary foreign workers, as names were redacted.

In an email to Radio-Canada Tuesday morning, however, BRP said the statements of offence concern 26 temporary foreign workers at the Valcourt plant.

The labour board declined a request for an interview, as the case is still open.

BRP disputes findings

Asked about the statements of offence, BRP said it disagrees with the CNESST's findings. It also says it has paid its Mexican employees fairly and equitably.

"We intend to contest them if we do not reach a constructive solution with the CNESST, with whom we are still in discussion," the company responded by email. BRP refused an interview request by Radio-Canada.

The company said it has nothing to apologize for regarding the treatment of its Mexican workers.

"We treated them with respect and dignity, as we do our 23,000 employees worldwide," it said.

Up to $1,200 per violation, law professor says

According to data provided by the CNESST, the number of citations issued to employers who hire workers through the federal government's temporary foreign worker program has skyrocketed.

In 2022, 14 statements of offence were issued to such employers. Since Aug. 31 of this year, that number has jumped to 90.

Finn Makela, a professor of law at the Université de Sherbrooke, says the CNESST has chosen to send a "strong message to companies benefiting from the temporary foreign worker program" by issuing a host of violation notices to BRP.

"This will send the message to other employers that they too can be penalized," he said.

Makela says it's highly likely that the CNESST will issue new citations if BRP refuses to comply with the law.

"Every day they fail to pay the minimum wage is a new offence," he said. "Theoretically, an employer who fails to comply with the law after a first violation could receive a barrage of infringement notices."

BRP faces fines of $600 to $1,200 per violation, then $6,000 per repeat offence, Makela said.

Organizations applaud fines

Nellie Quane-Arsenault, a project manager at Illusion-Emploi de l'Estrie, a workers' rights organization, said she'd previously expressed concern about the situation at BRP.

She says CNESST's findings prove "that rights were trampled," she said.

Quane-Arsenault, however, questions whether the fines will really act as a deterrent.

"The fines have to be higher to prevent this from happening again elsewhere," she said.

Michel Pilon, executive director of the Réseau d'aide aux travailleuses et travailleurs migrants agricoles du Québec (RATTMAQ), also sounded the alarm about BRP in regard to temporary foreign workers.

He said he intends to monitor the situation closely.

"We can't have working conditions that are less advantageous than what labour standards indicate," he said."In that sense, I think the CNESST has played its part."