Employees at Vancouver tech startup say they haven’t been paid in months

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WATCH: A frustrating situation for hundreds of employees at a China-based tech company. They’ve been working for months without being paid. Nadia Stewart reports – Sep 26, 2017

A frustrating situation for hundreds of employees at a Vancouver tech startup, who say they have not been paid since May.

Elaine Li and and Manivannan Gajendran say they’ve been faced with a cash crunch and still don’t know when they’ll get the rest of what’s owed to them.

“I feel cheated,” Gajendran, a former Istuary Employee, said. “I trusted the company and stayed with the company and I owe a lot of money to banks now.”

“I mean, if they see problems coming, they should have told the employees earlier,” added Li.

Both worked for Istuary Innovation Group, an offshore startup focused on software and technology development. Founded in 2013 by Ethan Sun, the company has about 400 North American workers and 1,100 more in China.

A YouTube video on the company’s channel says “in true startup fashion, Innovation Labs was started in a McDonald’s by a few passionate engineers.”

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However, the problems started in the spring when Vancouver employees did not receive their April 15 paycheque. That money later came through at the end of the month.

But by June 15, employees say it happened a second time.

“They just said they have money and they’re using it to buy another company and they have problems transferring some money from China to Canada and because of that payroll was delayed,” Gajendran says.

WATCH: B.C. government investigates company for not paying employees

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B.C. government investigates company for not paying employees – Sep 27, 2017

Pay delays leave workers stranded

In emails obtained by Global News, Brian Chen, Istuary’s chief financial officer, told employees in an April 13 email: “To further accelerate our business growth, Istuary have been working on a significant acquisition of a public listed company in China over the last several months. As part of the due diligence process of this acquisition, significant financial resources needs to be frozen recently for a short period of time.”

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In a June 30 email, employees were told the company was experiencing “certain payroll-related issues” and that they were “certain that payroll-related issues will end no later than July 31, 2017.”

Employees who chose to stay were promised “an additional retention bonus.”

Li says by July there was still no pay and no bonus.

“And then on August 1st, they put out the suggestion for the employees to go on EI,” she says.

Since then, they’ve heard nothing from Sun, their CEO, who has rubbed shoulders with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former B.C. premier Christy Clark. A video on the company’s YouTube channel also includes footage of an apparent trade mission with former prime minister Stephen Harper.

Global News made several attempts to contact the Vancouver office — along with the CFO and other senior staffers — but has not received a response to a request for an interview.

Life in limbo

As for Li and Gajendran, their debts are piling up. Gajendran took out a $20,000 line of credit to cover his living in expenses in Vancouver. He’s now paying the hefty bill himself.

Li’s future is also in limbo as she waits for answers.

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“This is a problem that we don’t know when [it] will be resolved. Just tell us what’s gonna happen and then we’ll plan for ourselves,” she said.

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