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B.C. rights tribunal to hear complaint from tree planter Add to ...

The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal has agreed to hear a complaint from a former tree planter about his work for a B.C. company, despite the complaint being filed after a six-month deadline set out in the human-rights process.

The complaint was filed by one member of a group of workers, mostly of African descent, who were discovered to be working in unsafe conditions at a B.C. forestry camp in the summer of 2010.

In a Aug. 22 decision, a Human Rights Tribunal member said the allegations of discrimination are “particularly egregious.” The decision also noted that the delay was relatively short and that the company is already facing a similar complaint from other tree planters it employed.

The complaint, filed by Mugama Futaki, concerns allegations of mistreatment and discrimination he experienced while working for Khaira Enterprises, a tree-planting operation that was shut down by the provincial government in July, 2010, ostensibly for poor working conditions.

The alleged discrimination occurred between March and May of last year. To meet the timelines set out in the code, Mr. Futaki would have had to file a complaint by Nov. 27, but he filed a complaint just over a week later, on Dec. 6.

The delay occurred, the tribunal decision states, because the B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre – which represents Mr. Futaki and other former Khaira employees – was focused on trying to recover the employees’ wages.

The shuttered company has no funds and a human-rights complaint represents “the only realistic chance of recovery of lost wages over and above those recoverable from the directors of Khaira under the Employment Standards Act,” the tribunal decision says.

The complaint concerns allegations that the company and its directors mistreated and underpaid Mr. Futaki because he is of African descent. Workers have alleged they were provided little or poor-quality food and subjected to physical abuse.

A July, 2011 report by the B.C. Forest Safety Ombudsman found a string of shortcomings and failures that resulted in workers having to be rescued from the camp and made several recommendations to prevent a repeat occurrence, including greater scrutiny of contractors.

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