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Tim Hortons ordered to turn over documents in human rights complaint over treatment of Mexican workers




Jennifer Saltman

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The Province

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Tim Hortons has been ordered to provide documents and records to lawyers for four temporary foreign workers who allege that they were victims of discrimination when they worked at franchises in Dawson Creek.

The decision from the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal was released last week.

Rodolfo Duran Lara, Edxon Gonzalez Chein, Eric Dessens and Ruben Omar Varela Ramirez came to Canada under the Temporary Foreign Workers Program in January and March 2012 to work at two Tim Hortons franchises in Dawson Creek owned by Tony Van Den Bosch.

In their human rights complaint, filed on their behalf in November 2012 by the B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre, the men allege that they were coerced into living in one of two homes owned by Van Den Bosch. Up to 10 workers shared each of the two five-bedroom, two-bathroom houses.

It is alleged that the workers were asked to sign a document stating that their rent was $200 per month, but they were required to pay another $200 each on the 15th of the month as a “tip” to Van Den Bosch. They allege that the home was overcrowded and Van Den Bosch regularly violated their privacy.

They say they were actively discouraged from living elsewhere in Dawson Creek and believed that if they did not live in the house they would be fired or sent back to Mexico.

“The complainants felt extremely vulnerable having their employer as their landlord,” the complaint states.

At work, the men stated, they received little training and were berated when they made mistakes.

Although they had been hired as food counter attendants, the men allege that they were required to sweep and mop the restaurants and work in the bakery — tasks they say were not performed by Canadian or Filipino workers.

The men said they were not given regular shifts and scheduling changes were made without their consent and with little notice. They allege they were also denied medical care and required to work when they were ill or injured.

On several occasions, the complaint alleges, the four men were victims of racist comments by Van Den Bosch. They say he referred to Mexicans in general as “drug traffickers” and the workers as “Mexican idiots.”

The complaint alleges that Van Den Bosch said “ ... Mexicans are lazy. I see them resting under a tree with a sombrero.” They say they were prohibited from speaking Spanish at work.

“The complainants’ temporary work permits were tied specifically to their employment with the respondent employer,” the complaint states. “This arrangement placed the workers in a vulnerable position from the outset, as they could not leave their positions and seek employment elsewhere, regardless of the working conditions.”

Two of the men say they were fired and sent back to Mexico in April 2012 after complaining to Van Den Bosch. The other two complainants left without notice in May 2012.

Van Den Bosch, who sold the franchises back to Tim Hortons in the summer of 2012, has vigorously denied the allegations.

Tim Hortons, listed in the complaint as Tim Hortons Inc. and TDL Group Corp., has applied to have the complaint against the company dismissed without a hearing.

The complaint alleges that Tim Hortons contributed to the discrimination by engaging its franchises in the temporary foreign worker program and exacerbated the power imbalance experienced by the complainants.

The company argues that the complaint does not allege that Tim Hortons violated the Human Rights Code. It further states that the complaint does not have a reasonable prospect of success and would not further the purposes of the code if it did proceed. The company relied on a number of documents to support its position.

Counsel for the four workers said that in order to respond to the dismissal application, it needs those documents and reports from the company.

“From a fairness point of view, you can’t rely on a document — to say it means something — without providing that document for the other party to respond to,” said Eugene Kung, counsel for the workers.

The tribunal agreed. The documents have not yet been disclosed, but a pre-hearing conference has been scheduled for Friday.

Kung said he expects the documents will reveal the level of control the parent company has over how its franchisees operate.

Earl Phillips, who is counsel for Tim Hortons, did not wish to comment when contacted Tuesday.



Economic sectors

Food and beverage servers and Food counter attendants, kitchen helpers and related support occupations

Target groups

Public awareness and NGOs/community groups/solidarity networks

Geographical focuses

British Columbia