NEWS

Treeplanters allege camp conditions akin to 'slavery'

09/30/2013 10:24 EDT | Updated 11/30/2013 05:12 EST
The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal is scheduled to hear the case of 50 treeplanters, originally from Africa, who allege they were forced to work in deplorable conditions in remote camps around B.C.

The workers say they were shuttled from camp to camp by Surrey based Khaira Enterprises until their story emerged from a camp in the Golden area.

- Read more about conditions in the camp

When officials from the provincial Forests Ministry arrived at the site in the summer of 2010, the treeplanters told them they had not eaten in two days, were living in squalor and were not getting paid by Surrey-based Khaira Enterprises.

Sarah Khan, a lawyer with the B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre, who represents the workers, says they will seek back pay and damages at a hearing that begins today in Vancouver.

"What we are saying is the conditions were so bad they are akin to slavery," says Khan.

"They were forced to live in cramped storage containers for a lot of the time they worked for Khaira. They were given expired and under cooked food routinely and also routinely subjected to racial slurs, discrimination and violence."

The B.C. government's reforestation policy will also come under scrutiny, according to forestry consultant John Betts, who says the province was warned about Khaira, yet still gave the company contracts.

"We were very skeptical if not outright suspicious it was not a fit bid and it should not have been awarded," says Betts.

One of the owners of Khaira Enterprises was also charged with fraud. The company and did not return CBC phone calls.

Six weeks has been set aside for the hearing.

In 2011 Khaira was ordered to pay its workers nearly a quarter of a million dollars by B.C.'s Employment Standards Branch.

MORE:cbcNews