Foreign workers’ complaint heads to B.C. human rights hearing

posted on November 9, 2015

By Bethany Lindsay, Vancouver Sun |

An allegation that a B.C. Tim Hortons restaurant exploited a group of Filipino workers is headed to a human rights hearing.

By Bethany Lindsay, Vancouver Sun |

An allegation that a B.C. Tim Hortons restaurant exploited a group of Filipino workers is headed to a human rights hearing.

The employees, all temporary foreign workers, allege the now-former operators of the Fernie franchise denied them overtime pay, gave them less desirable shifts than their coworkers, and threatened them with being sent back to the Philippines. This amounted to discrimination on the basis of race, colour, ancestry and place of origin, they claim.

Tim Hortons had asked the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal to dismiss the complaint against them, arguing that they should not be held responsible for the actions of franchise operators Pierre Joseph Pelletier and Kristin Hovind-Pelletier.

But tribunal member Walter Rilkoff denied that application on Thursday, writing that the coffee-and-doughnuts behemoth did appear to have some control over the franchisees, including the right to conduct audits and revoke a franchise over labour law violations. Tim Hortons also helped the Pelletiers tap into the federal government’s temporary foreign worker program.

“In my view, it is abundantly clear on reading the complaint, even if not expressly stated, that what is being alleged against them is that they had the ability to interfere with and influence the allegedly discriminatory conduct of the franchisee group and failed to do so,” Rilkoff wrote.

He also noted that he’d asked Tim Hortons to provide the tribunal with a copy of a confidential operating manual outlining the standards and obligations required of each franchisee, but the company failed to do so. Without that document, the tribunal didn’t have all the evidence it needed about the relationship between the corporation and its franchisees.

The complaint was filed by the United Steelworkers union on behalf of current and former employees of the Fernie Tim Hortons. Stephen Hunt, the Steelworkers’ regional director, said he was pleased with tribunal’s decision to include the corporation in the complaint.

“They do have to take some responsibility for the franchisees. They’re using the Tim Hortons brand,” Hunt said.

He added that the current system doesn’t give temporary foreign workers enough protection against abuse from employers.

“They’re guest workers. To expose these workers to what they’ve been exposed to is wrong, in every respect,” he said.

Rilkoff’s decision doesn’t include any findings about whether the workers were discriminated against, and the Pelletiers have denied the allegations. The case will be decided after a hearing, which has yet to be scheduled.

Scrutiny of the Fernie franchise began after employee Richard Pepito alleged that the Pelletiers had required him to pay back, in cash, all of the overtime he’d received on his paycheques. He told The Vancouver Sun that he and his fellow workers were told that if they complained, they would lose their temporary foreign worker status.

In all, an accountant found that the franchise failed to pay workers $65,000 in overtime between 2011 and 2013.

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