11/09/2012 06:47 EST | Updated 01/09/2013 05:12 EST

Mexican workers in B.C. file human rights complaint against Tim Hortons boss

DAWSON CREEK, B.C. - Four temporary foreign workers from Mexico who worked at two Tim Hortons locations in Dawson Creek, B.C., have launched a human rights complaint against the boss they call a racist.

They say Tony Van Den Bosch charged them double rent, called them Mexican idiots, said he owned their lives and regularly asked for their passports.

Lawyer Eugene Kung of the BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre, which launched the complaint at the BC Human Rights Tribunal, said Van Den Bosch threatened to send the workers back to Mexico when they complained about their working and living conditions at his home.

Kung said the workers lived two to a room in a five-bedroom house and were asked to pay $200 each at the beginning of the month and another $200 rent mid-month.

"It's impossible to separate the power imbalance that's created when your work and status is tied to the employer," he said. "That power dynamic was made more acute with the fact that the employer was also the landlord and was pervasive in every element of their lives."

Alexandra Cygal, a spokeswoman for Tim Hortons, said in a statement the company learned Friday about the allegations made in the human rights complaint against Van Den Bosch who has not been with the chain since July 2012.

"We don’t condone any of the behaviours or allegations made in the complaint," she said.

The workers were employed in the northern B.C. city for only about two months each and their plight came to light when they contacted the Mexican Consulate, Kung said.

Three of the workers are now back in Mexico and one is employed in Vancouver, he said.

Additional complaints have been filed with the Labour Ministry regarding Van Den Bosch's breaches of the Employment Standards Act.

Cygal said Tim Hortons works with restaurant owners and various governments on employment practices and standards, and restaurant owners hire their own staff.

"When they have difficulty filling restaurant positions with local workers, they turn to the temporary foreign workers program to appropriately staff their restaurants," she said.

B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair said the workers' situation and similar cases highlight the problems associated with the temporary workers' program, which has tarnished Canada's reputation.