11 September 2007
Canada Line Tunnelling Firm Denies Union's Pay Allegations
Vancouver British Columbia - The company building the Canada Line said Monday there was no conspiracy to pay 39 Latin American workers labouring on a section of the line less than their Canadian counterparts.
In final arguments before the B.C. Labour Relations Board, lawyers for the SNC Lavalin-Seli Canada joint venture denied allegations that it fraudulently altered the workers' contracts and then covered it up.
"This panel should come to the inescapable conclusion that the union's allegations are based almost entirely on conjecture, innuendo, and a genuine dislike for this employer," lawyer Craig Munroe told Labour Relations Board vice-chair Philip Topalian.
The company, boring parallel tunnels under downtown Vancouver, has been under the microscope in a series of complaints to the LRB, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, and the provincial Employment Standards Branch over its treatment of foreign workers.
The Construction and Specialized Workers Union Local 1611 has alleged the company, which was originally paying the workers $12,000 US per year, unilaterally altered their contract to raise their pay to $20,000 US after they joined the union in mid-2006.
That undermined the union's bargaining powers and let the company set a wage that was below local labour standards, said the union in its filings.
The workers now are netting about $20,000 US per year, roughly $14 an hour, plus room and board - about three times what they would make in their own countries but $10 per hour less than the $23 to $24 an hour, plus $4 per hour benefits, being paid to most local union workers, the union says.
In its own final submissions, the union alleged that the first page of each worker's contract was changed to read $20,000, and then company executives stapled and re-stapled the pages to cover their tracks.
In a hearing in May, Local 1611 brought in a retired RCMP document examiner who said the first page was not prepared with the same font, the same printer, or at the same time as the other pages.
The pages are different because a general contract was printed, and then employee-specific information was added to the first page later, said Munroe. "The union has fastened onto any small inconsistency or administrative error as proof of its claim," he said.
The hearing continues today.