The civil claim, filed in B.C. Supreme Court on Mar. 20 on behalf of 40-year-old Bao Min Cheng's wife Mei Juan Lin and their four young children names Hallmark Poultry Processors Ltd. as the defendant.
Cheng died from heart failure on Mar. 22, 2013 around 10 p.m. after working a 13-hour shift at Hallmark's chicken slaughterhouse factory at 1756 Pandora St. in Vancouver, according to the suit.
Cheng immigrated to Canada in the early 2000s from China. He did not speak English and had little education. Both he and his wife became Canadian citizens and all four of their children were born in Canada.
Since his death, the claim says the family has been forced to survive on death benefits paid by the Canada pension plan, welfare and other government subsidies.
"I can say that Bao Min Cheng's death was a terrible event for his wife and their four young children and they have suffered a great deal of hardship as a result," said Matthew Jackson, who is representing Lin for the claim.
Claims death by overwork
It states that Cheng's job at Hallmark was the only one he could find and that the company makes a practise of hiring Chinese immigrants to process chickens and has them working up to 70 hours per week.
Cheng worked for minimum wage and was paid 1.5 times that for the time he worked in excess of 40 hours, says the claim and that because of Cheng's limited education and English skills, "he had no real choice but to work at the Hallmark chicken factory."
He worked there for more than seven years. During four of those years his job was to haul chicken carcasses off a conveyor belt and hang them on hooks above his head.
The claim describes the work as "repetitive and strenuous labour."
The claims says that Cheng did have a pre-existing heart condition, which caused him to have high blood pressure and required management with medication. His medical condition was not immediately life-threatening.
The suit claims that Hallmark owes its workers a "standard of care...to ensure that their working conditions are safe and that the nature of the work required and the amount of time spent doing the required work does not place its employees in risk of harm or death."
Also, the claim references B.C.'s Employment Standards Act, which prohibits employers from requiring workers to work excessive hours or hours detrimental to their health.
"By requiring or condoning the Plaintiff to work 60-70 hours per week, which amounts to 12-1 hours per day 6 days a week, doing strenuous repetitive labour of lifting chicken carcasses from a conveyor belt to hooks above head level in a refrigerated environment, the Defendant failed to meet the standard of care owed to the Plaintiff."
Another worker also died a year after
The claim also states that another worker at the same factory died a year after Cheng after similar long hours.
Jackson says the province is investigating the allegations of excessive overtime at Hallmark.
"The Employment Standards Branch has been conducting an investigation into complaints about this issue of excessive overtime. The investigation as far as I know is still on-going and the issue...there are more than one issue, but the main allegation is excessive overtime hours."
When contacted, an employee at Hallmark Poultry Processors Ltd. said they were not aware of the civil claim and told CBC News they did not recognize the name of Bao Min Cheng but said the company employs 500, mostly Cantonese-speaking people.
None of the claims have been proven in court.
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