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.
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Labour Day: A Canadian Invention
Few Canadians realize it, but Labour Day is as Canadian as maple bacon. It all began in 1872, when the Toronto Typographical Union went on strike to demand a nine-hour workday. When <i>Globe and Mail</i> chief George Brown had the protest organizers arrested, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald passed a law legalizing labour unions. Thus, a Conservative prime minister became a hero to the working class, and Canada became among the first countries to limit the workday, doing so decades before the U.S. The typographers' marches became an annual event, eventually being adopted by the U.S., becoming the modern day Labour Day.
The Winnipeg General Strike
The end of World War I brought social instability and economic volatility to Canada. On May 15, 1919, numerous umbrella union groups went out on strike in Winnipeg, grinding the city to a halt. Protesters were attacked in the media with epithets such as "Bolshevik" and "Bohunk," but resistance from the media and government only strengthened the movement. In June, the mayor ordered the Mounties to ride into the protest, prompting violent clashes and the death of two protesters. After protest leaders were arrested, organizers called off the strike. But the federal mediator ended up ruling in favour of the protesters, establishing the Winnipeg General Strike as the most important strike in Canadian history, and a precursor to the country's modern labour movement.
The Regina Riot
During the Great Depression, the only way for a single male Canadian to get government assistance was to join "relief camps" -- make-work projects set up by the federal government out of concern idle young men were a threat to the nation. The relief camps, with their poor work conditions, became breeding grounds for communists and other radicals. The "On-To-Ottawa Trek" was organized as a protest that would move from Vancouver across the country to Ottawa, to bring workers' grievances to the prime minister. The trek halted in Regina when Prime Minister R.B. Bennett promised to talk to protest organizers. When talks broke down, the RCMP refused to allow the protesters to leave Regina and head for Ottawa, and on June 26, 1935, RCMP riot officers attacked a crowd of protesters. More than 100 people were arrested and two killed -- one protester and one officer.
In May, 1938, unemployed men led by communist organizers occupied a post office and art gallery in downtown Vancouver, protesting over poor work conditions at government-run Depression-era "relief camps." In June, the RCMP moved in to clear out the occupiers, using tear gas inside the post office. The protesters inside smashed windows for air and armed themselves with whatever was available. Forty-two people, including five officers, were injured. When word spread of the evacuation, sympathizers marched through the city's East End, smashing store windows. Further protests against "police terror" would be held in the weeks to come.
Giant Mine Bombing
In 1992, workers at Royal Oak Mines' Giant Mine in the Northwest Territories went on strike. On September 18, a bomb exploded in a mineshaft deep underground, killing nine replacement workers. Mine worker Roger Warren was convicted of nine counts of second-degree murder. The Giant Mine closed in 2004.
The Toronto G20
The Canadian Labour Congress, representing numerous labour groups, participated in protests in Toronto during the G20 summit in June, 2010. When a handful of "Black Block" anarchists rioted through the city core, it brought an overwhelming police response that resulted in the largest mass arrests in Canadian history. More than 1,000 people were arrested, with most never charged with any crime. Numerous allegations of police brutality have been made, and the Toronto police are now the target of several multi-million dollar lawsuits. So far, two police officers have been charged with crimes relating to G20 policing, and charges against other police officers are also possible.
When Vancouver-based magazine Adbusters suggested the public "occupy Wall Street" to protest corporate malfeasance, New Yorkers took the suggestion seriously, and occupied Zuccotti Park in Manhattan. Canadians followed suit, sparking copycat occupations in all major Canadian cities in September, 2011. By December, most of the occupations had been cleared, all of them non-violently. Though the protests achieved no specific goals, they did change the political conversation in North America. What their long-term legacy will be remains to be seen.