The BC Federation of Labour is welcoming a Ministry of Labour decision ordering the Aquilini family to pay over $130,000 in wages and vacation pay owed to temporary foreign workers employed at their berry farm in Pitt Meadows.
“The decision shows that the Aquilinis engaged in wage theft. One of BC’s wealthiest families has been ordered to pay wages for the vulnerable temporary foreign workers they employed. The decision shows that the farm withheld work and were not paying them the wages they were entitled to under their contract,” says BC Federation of Labour President Laird Cronk.
The 174 temporary foreign workers came to Canada to work on the Aquilini-owned Golden Eagle Blueberry Farm under Labour Market Impact Assessment contracts that stipulated a forty-hour work week for a period of six months. The workers were given about one month of full-time work, before their work assignment was reduced.
In October 2018, BCFED submitted a third-party complaint about the situation to multiple federal and provincial government agencies. The complaint was submitted in collaboration with Abbottsford Community Services, Sanctuary Health Vancouver, and Watari.
The complaint included reported abuse, unsanitary living conditions, threats, and lack of adherence to stipulated working hours and conditions. The Ministry decision and payment order deals only with the issue of working hours and compensation.
Yesterday, the Workers Compensation Board fined the Aquilinis’ $53,000 for using an unsafe vehicle to transport farm workers on the same farm.
BCFED is calling for greater protections for temporary foreign workers through enhanced monitoring and stronger enforcement of employer compliance.
Temporary foreign workers are susceptible to being sent home or blacklisted by their employer if they report a health and safety hazard or if they apply for workers’ compensation after being hurt.
“This is a small but important victory, and it serves as a message to employers that they can no longer get away with exploiting Temporary Foreign Workers in the province of British Columbia.”
“The best way to protect temporary foreign workers is not to tie their status to a single employer,” adds Cronk. “They should be on track for permanent residency upon arrival for those who chose it. With a change in status, we may have a chance to organize these vulnerable workers into unions and negotiate fairer working conditions.”
Proposed changes to B.C. labour laws will make a real difference for workers, particularly the most vulnerable — children, new Canadians, and the working poor.
Raising the working age to 16 is really about child protection. First work experiences are formative, but must be safe and age-appropriate. Youth can continue taking on paper routes or stocking shelves. For the past 15 years, employers have been allowed to hire children as young as 12 for dangerous work, including in construction or mining. The Workers Compensation Board paid out more than $5.2 million in disability claims to children 15 and under in a decade. If your business model involves putting children in harm’s way, you need another model.
Labour laws mean little without access to justice. Aaron is a general labourer who was never paid for his work. Three years and a B.C. Supreme Court injunction later, and he still hasn’t been paid. Wage theft is theft: the government is right to improve Employment Standards enforcement, and the wage-recovery period is now extended to 12 months. “Self help” kits that forced workers to confront their own employers’ malfeasance alone and unaided are rightly headed to the scrap heap.
Jhovie is a care aide for seniors in North Vancouver. Her employer is a company contracted by the care home to provide seniors care. The contract was retendered — flipped — four times in 10 years to save money. Collective agreements are binned and employees like Jhovie lose pay, benefits or even their jobs when their employer’s contract is retendered. Care levels suffered due to staff turnover. Contract flipping promotes a race to the bottom.
Labour code revisions will finally put an end to contract flipping in economic sectors where it has been rampant, including janitorial, food services, security and non-medical health care. These workers are predominantly women and are often first-generation Canadians. Jhovie, and thousands of caring professionals like her, finally have some job security and a chance to be fairly rewarded for their important work.
B.C. remains a low-wage, high cost of living province, with severe rates of poverty and economic inequality. A solid antidote is the ability for workers to come together and bargain collectively for better working conditions, research shows. Joining a union empowers workers to negotiate with their employer. There’s a business case for collective agreements — a mutually agreed rulebook for employers and employees, ensuring certainty and respect for both.
Maintaining a two-step union certification process is a missed opportunity. Six jurisdictions across Canada have a one-step process, respecting workers’ choice when more than 55 per cent of employees in a workplace sign union cards. My signature is good enough to get a passport, a mortgage or to vote: it should be enough to indicate that I want to form or join a union.
The existing two-step process includes a delayed second vote, which far too often results in improper employer interference, including worker intimidation and coercion, which is the finding of hundreds of Labour Relations Board decisions. Despite the missed opportunity, it’s good to see a reduction in the unnecessary delay before the second vote, to five days from 10 and new limits on employer interference. We’ll be monitoring the new law’s effectiveness.
We welcome these much-needed revisions to our labour laws. They will help restore a real measure of fairness and stability to worksites across the province, helping to protect workers like Aaron and Jhovie.
The 2019 Young Workers' School will be held June 14-16 at Camp Jubilee in the Indian Arm.
For more information and to register, please visit: https://conference.bcfed.ca/youngworkerschool/
Global TV's Sonia Sunger sits down with BC Federation of Labour President Laird Cronk to talk about changes to BC's labour laws.
Proposed revisions to the BC Labour Code will help restore much-needed fairness at unionized worksites across the province.
“British Columbia remains a low-wage province, and precarious work is on the rise. The best antidote to economic inequality is greater union density,” says BC Federation of Labour President Laird Cronk. Fewer unions means lower pay for everybody.
The BCFED welcomes government’s move to expand successorship rights that protect workers when contract services are retendered. “The contract retendering process is used and abused to arbitrarily terminate collective agreements and maintain poverty-level wages,” says Cronk. Contract flipping is rampant in sectors such as construction, food and building services, security and health care.
“Contract flipping promotes a race to the bottom. Workers can lose pay and benefits - or even their job - when their employer’s contract is retendered or flipped. They need to reapply for their own jobs,” says Cronk.
The BCFED welcomes Labour Code amendments that ensure workers’ Charter right to join a union but is concerned that the two-step certification process remains in place, albeit with a shorter time frame.
BC’s Labour Code will preserve a secret-ballot vote for employees who want to join a union, but with a reduced delay of five days from the current ten. “A second vote in any form is a delay tactic that favours those with power in workplaces without a union, and that’s the employer,” says Cronk.
A second vote should not be necessary when more than 55 percent of employees in a workplace sign cards saying they want to form a union. “My signature is good enough to get a passport, a mortgage or to vote. My signature on a union card should be enough to indicate that I want to bargain collectively with my employer, without a delayed second ballot.”
“We welcome the new rules that limit employer interference during the five-day delay before the second certification vote. The labour movement will be closely monitoring the impact of these Labour Code changes at worksites across the province,” adds Cronk.
The BC Federation of Labour’s “Workers Deserve Better” campaign emphasizes workers’ stories that show how broken and unfair current labour laws are. The Minister for Labour Harry Bains and BC Green Party leader Andrew Weaver have received over 4,000 emails asking for fairer labour laws. Weaver has indicated that he does not support changing the existing two-step certification process.
The BC Labour Code regulates when and how employees can join unions and the rights and obligations of unions and unionized employers.
The BC Federation of Labour represents over 500,000 members from affiliated unions across the province, working in every sector of the economy.
Victoria - Revisions announced today to British Columbia’s Employment Standards legislation will make a real, positive difference to workers and their families across British Columbia.
“The Employment Standards Act is being modernized, providing a more just level of protection for BC workers while removing barriers to access to justice by removing the self-help kit and extending wage recovery times,” says BC Federation of Labour President Laird Cronk.
These Employment Standards Act changes will improve fairness for workers and bring the province in line with international labour standards.
The BC Federation of Labour welcomes the increase in the minimum age for formal employment to 16, while allowing light duty work for younger workers.
“Employment standards are particularly important for the most vulnerable workers in society, such as women, immigrants, minorities, young workers, and precarious workers,” says Cronk.
“Providing leave from work in cases of intimate, personal and family violence leave is the right thing to do,” says Secretary Treasurer Sussanne Skidmore.
“It’s needed for victims to start addressing the impact of violence on all aspects of their life. However, we are concerned that the most vulnerable may not access this leave because it will be unpaid.”
Richmond — This weekend, thousands of British Columbians are remembering workers who lost their lives on the job, at more than 35 Day of Mourning ceremonies around the province.
Today’s Vancouver ceremony begins at 10:30 a.m. at Jack Poole Plaza, preceded by the lighting of the Olympic Cauldron at 10 a.m. Among those speaking in Vancouver are Sadaf Abdul, who will tell her father’s tragic story, and Mike Shaw, who will talk about his life-changing injury on the job.
Presentations from the Ministry of Labour, the BC Federation of Labour, Business Council of British Columbia (BCBC), and WorkSafeBC will honour lost workers. The ceremony, emceed by the Vancouver & District Labour Council, will conclude with a moment of silence, followed by a piper-led honour-guard procession and the placing of roses as a symbol of remembrance.
In 2018, WorkSafeBC accepted 131 work-related death claims, 66 as a result of occupational disease and 65 from traumatic injury, including 24 claims involving motor-vehicle incidents. The highest numbers of work-related deaths by industry subsector were in general construction (30), transportation and related services (20), and public administration (14).
This marks the 22nd year BCFED, the BCBC, and WorkSafeBC have jointly hosted a public commemorative ceremony for the Day of Mourning in Vancouver.
Last week, hundreds of students at more than 180 schools took part in the Day of Mourning: BC Schools project. Now in its fourth year, the BC Labour Heritage Centre program honours fallen workers by educating students about workplace safety. In 2018, four young workers died of occupational injuries.
Quotes from today’s speakers:
Sadaf Abdul, daughter of a fatally injured worker:
“After my dad’s fall, they let us see him in the ICU. I held his hand and I prayed and prayed. My father, my best friend, was leaving me and I had to say goodbye to him, goodbye forever.
“After I heard what had happened, I knew it was preventable. There are steps — small, simple steps — that employers and workers can take to save lives.”
Laird Cronk, President of the BC Federation of Labour:
“On April 28 every year, we commemorate the workers who have been killed, injured, or become ill because of their work. In 2018, 187 workers did not return home or passed from work-related illnesses. That’s nearly four workers every week.
“The National Day of Mourning is a day for sombre reflection, but also a collective call to action.
We must do more to protect workers in BC.”
Minister of Labour Harry Bains:
“Today we mourn those who have lost their lives, send thoughts to people injured on the job, and vow to do more to protect today’s workers from injury or illness. The National Day of Mourning highlights the need for all of us to make workplace safety our priority, and today, I am proud to stand up and re-affirm my commitment to safe workplaces through action.
“We are making changes to the Labour Relations Code, the Employment Standards Branch, and the workers’ compensation system to provide better supports for working British Columbians. Without exception, I want all workplaces in British Columbia to have strong cultures of safety.”
Greg D’Avignon, President and CEO, Business Council of British Columbia
“Each day 2.5 million British Columbians go to work. Despite the diversity of the jobs we perform, we are united in our commitment to safe workplaces and operating practices. Today, we mourn the individuals who have needlessly died or were injured while at work. To truly honour these people, we all must rededicate ourselves to our collective responsibility to end preventable workplace accidents and injuries.”
Brian Erickson, WorkSafeBC interim President and CEO:
“The Day of Mourning gives added meaning and urgency to the need for safer, healthier workplaces. Health and safety must be our priority every day of the year. Workplace injury and work-related disease are preventable; they are not a cost of doing business.”
Stephen von Sychowski, President of the Vancouver & District Labour Council
"The Day of Mourning is one of the most important dates annually. It's a critical reminder of the importance of our workplaces having robust enforcement of regulations, ensuring consistent employer adherence to responsibilities, and that workers know their rights and exercise them. One workplace death is too many, and it takes us all to make that a reality."
The Western Regional Summer Institute for Union Women, "Equity. Justice. Reconcili-action: Building worker power through Intersectional feminism and activism," will take place July 2-6, 2019, at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, British Columbia.
For more information and to register, please visit: https://conference.bcfed.ca/siuw2019/.
The BC Federation of Labour is profoundly troubled to learn of the attacks on churches and hotels on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka that claimed the lives of hundreds in their places of worship.
On behalf of the 500,000 union members represented by the Federation through its affiliates, we condemn hate crimes, and the rhetoric that leads to those hate crimes, and reject the villainizing of any religion and its practitioners.
Our thoughts are with the people of Sri Lanka, their families and their communities. We urge union members to reach out to their unions if they require any support during this difficult time.
We also encourage allies to reach out to their Christian and Muslim friends, and to consider donating to community organizations providing culturally-appropriate counselling and support services for impacted community members.
W. Laird Cronk, President
Sussanne Skidmore, Secretary-Treasurer
April 10, 2019
Senators of Canada
The Senate of Canada
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A4
BC Federation of Labour Calls for the Immediate Passing of Bill C-262
The B.C. Federation of Labour is calling on each Senator of Canada to pass Bill C-262, An Act to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, without delay.
Yesterday, Conservative Senators prevented Bill C-262 from being sent to Committee for review. This is an unconscionable move by Senate on a motion that passed with an overwhelming majority of 206 in favour in the House of Commons.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, in Call to Action #43, called upon the “federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation” (emphasis added). Bill C-262 was passed in the House of Commons on May 30, 2018, with an overwhelming majority of votes cast in support of the bill. Bill C-262 must not be stalled in the Senate.
With a looming federal election, there is a substantial and unacceptable risk that the bill may miss the legislative window. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the General Assembly in September 2007 after more than 20 years of discussions. Canada has delayed the implementation and recognition of the international human rights standards of Indigenous peoples for far too long.
We are calling on the Senate of Canada to immediately pass Bill C-262 and to begin the initial work of implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the most comprehensive, universal international human rights instrument explicitly addressing the economic, social, cultural, political, spiritual and environmental rights of Indigenous Peoples.
W. Laird Cronk
President, BC Federation of Labour
MP Romeo Saganash
Union of BC Indian Chiefs
First Nations Summit
BC Assembly of First Nations
National Chief Perry Bellegarde
National Assembly of First Nations