Canucks owners fined over foreign worker wages

One of B.C.’s wealthiest families has been ordered by a branch of the Ministry of Labour to pay more than $130,000 in unpaid wages owed to temporary foreign workers at a Pitt Meadows berry farm.

The Employment Standards Branch found the Aquilini family, which owns the Vancouver Canucks and Rogers Arena, to be in violation of Labour Market Impact Assessment contracts stipulating six months of full-time work for workers at Golden Eagle Blueberry Farm.

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Instead, the 174 workers, who came to Canada from Guatemala expecting 40-hour work weeks for half a year, were given only about one month of full-time work before their hours were reduced. In addition to ordering back wages, vacation pay and interest, Employment Standards fined the Aquilinis $500 for breaking the law.

Julianne McCaffrey, a spokesperson for the B.C. Ministry of Labour, confirmed the branch investigated 375 Golden Eagle farm workers in 2018 following a complaint of improper wages, and found that 174 of those employees were owed money.

The largest amount owing to an individual complainant was $1,943.27, while the average amount was $768.61.

The wages owed were determined by documentation submitted to the federal government for foreign nationals obtaining work permits for employment in Canada. These documents guaranteed workers 40 hours of work each week, said McCaffrey.

The Aquilinis have the right to appeal this decision to the Employment Standards Tribunal until June 20. The ministry has also referred the matter to other regulatory agencies that have jurisdiction over other allegations the workers made that are outside the scope of the Employment Standards Act.

B.C. Minister of Labour Harry Bains said it is always “very concerning” to hear about mistreated workers. “Employers in B.C. have a legal obligation to uphold employment standards and safe working conditions. Worker rights and protections must be respected. As minister of labour, this has been my focus from day one,” said Bains, in an emailed statement Friday.

Bains said the government has introduced amendments to the Employment Standards Act that will help make the complaint process easier, fairer and more effective. He also introduced the new Temporary Foreign Worker Protection Act last year to “better protect people coming to work in B.C. against workplace exploitation and abuse.”

B.C. Federation of Labour president Laird Cronk condemned the Aquilini’s actions. “The decision shows the Aquilinis engaged in wage theft,” he said. “The decision shows the farm withheld work and were not paying them the wages they were entitled to under contract.”

The decision comes in the same month the Aquilinis were fined $53,000 for using an unsafe vehicle to transport workers on the same farm.

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