News British Columbia

Tree planter discrimination case nears end 0

By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver

The living conditions of workers inside a container box at Golden, B.C. company Khaira Enterprises Ltd. (PHOTO SUBMITTED)

The living conditions of workers inside a container box at Golden, B.C. company Khaira Enterprises Ltd. (PHOTO SUBMITTED)

A battle to determine if African workers employed as tree planters by Khaira Enterprises Ltd. were discriminated against due to their race is nearing conclusion as the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal heard final arguments Thursday.

The case became public in 2010 when some 30 workers went on strike at the company’s Golden, B.C. tree planting operation, catching the attention of a provincial ministry worker who the tribunal heard rescued the workers.

Most of the workers were permanent residents in Canada, but it’s alleged they were treated differently due to their race.

Lawyers for the B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre said the workers suffered “slave-like” conditions and were subject to racial slurs.

Khaira co-owner Khalid Bajwa, who will present his final arguments Friday, dismissed the allegations and said all workers were treated equally.

Outside the hearing, Bajwa said all the employees had been paid in full, contradicting allegations from the advocacy centre that he still owed about half of $260,000 in unpaid wages.

“The majority (of the African workers) still wants to work with me. I have probably 75% of the same workers come work with me,” he said.

“There’s not anybody staying (in accommodation) differently than others, and I stayed with them, same place.”

In one example of racism, advocacy centre lawyer Sarah Khan said the workers were compared to cookies: white dough is uncooked and could be molded; brown dough is cooked properly, but black means “burnt” and is no good.

“Mr. Bajwa, of course, denied any racial or sexual discrimination,” Khan said.

“He generally seemed to feel while some of the conditions were difficult that’s to be expected … it’s not a tea party.”

Bajwa said his company continues to operate.

He included in his defence testimony from several African workers and added outside the hearing that three to four of his foremen — who he trusted to manage crews of 10 workers each and to report work hours — are black.

A final decision in the case, however, could be months after all submissions have been heard.

 

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