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employment standards

A February 2011 file photo shows a truck on the Sea to Sky Highway south of Squamish, B.C.ANDY CLARK/Reuters

The B.C. and Alberta governments are investigating companies related to a Kelowna-based businessman who has championed connections between Jamaica and Canada.

B.C.'s Employment Standards Branch confirmed this week it has an "active investigation" under way in relation to Hire Pro Drivers, a B.C. company run by Michael Patterson that links Canadian employers to truck drivers from other countries, including Jamaica.

A spokesman for the B.C. agency said he was not able to provide any details about the investigation.

The government of Alberta, meanwhile, is investigating a complaint against Mr. Patterson and another company he operates, Marmicmon, over allegations that it sought a fee in exchange for job-placement services.

"The allegation is that the complainant was charged fees to find employment in Alberta. The complaint was specifically alleging that Michael Patterson was involved," Service Alberta spokesman Mike Berezowsky said on Tuesday.

Under labour regulations in both provinces, it is illegal to charge workers in exchange for jobs.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Mr. Patterson said he had not been contacted by officials from either province and referred questions about regulatory matters to his lawyer. His lawyer subsequently declined to respond to written questions from The Globe.

Mr. Patterson has been involved in several initiatives to connect Jamaican workers with prospective Canadian employers, including serving as a liaison between Jamaican and Canadian schools for a program to train licensed practical nurses according to Alberta guidelines.

That initiative, announced in 2009, was suspended in 2011, says a spokesman for NorQuest College, the Alberta school that provided the curriculum for the program.

Jamaica's Pre-University – NorQuest's partner school in the venture – "did not meet its contractual obligations with respect to the clinical education component, nor did it meet its financial contractual obligations to NorQuest College, which prevented the renewal of the contract," NorQuest spokesman Yuri Wuensch said Wednesday in an e-mail.

About 250 students at four locations were trained through the program before it was suspended, Mr. Wuensch said.

Mr. Patterson is now focused on the industrial sector, which is hungry for qualified truck drivers and heavy-duty mechanics.

According to corporate records, Mr. Patterson is the director of B.C.-incorporated Job Fit Consulting Ltd., which is registered as a recruiting agency in Alberta but not in B.C.

"We are not recruiters – recruiters go overseas and bring people to Canada," Mr. Patterson said. "We do not bring people to Canada. Employers select their people – we are doing the same thing we normally do. The government of Jamaica sends us the résumés, we give those to the employers, the employers select who they want – they interview [the drivers] after they are evaluated by Mountain Transport Institute."

Mr. Patterson said his company is paid by clients to help with logistics that go into hiring foreign workers, including arranging equipment and personnel required to test employees to ensure they meet Canadian certification standards

MTI, a driver training school, on its website describes Hire Pro Drivers as a "foreign recruitment company." An MTI spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Last year, B.C.'s Employment Standards Branch handled 6,415 complaints and issued 741 penalties worth $458,500, according to figures supplied by the agency.

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