A Global News exclusive into allegations at two Subways in Aldergrove has helped lead to wages finally being paid to employees who had complained about not getting overtime and statutory holiday pay.
Now, there are more troubling allegations surfacing, involving people trying to immigrate to Canada, apparently being taken advantage of.
In Canada, international student visa holders can’t legally work more than 20 hours per week, off campus, during the school semester.
Weekly Subway staff schedules provided by whistle-blowers allegedly show international students working well over that legal limit, many of them too scared to speak up, out of fear they could get deported.
“These are the issues being examined through the investigation that the Ministry of Labour is conducting… Once the ministry determines what transpired, and we are informed, the appropriate steps will be taken in response as quickly as possible,” Subway Canada development agent, Margot Micallef said in a statement.
None of the allegations have been proven and the Employment Standards Branch (ESB) investigation into claims including food safety and labour violations could take over six months to complete.
The Ministry of Labour told Global News the investigation will include a review of the employer’s payroll records for a set period to determine whether they’ve been in compliance with the act.
The owner of the restaurants in question has declined to comment.
“The restaurant owner is cooperating with the Ministry of Labour as it investigates complaints related to staff payments and other labour issues, and we await their findings,” Micallef said.
WATCH: Subway Aldergrove allegations prompt growing calls for changes to B.C.’s Employment Standards Act
Aside from the questions about the Subway restaurants, there is another troubling issue affecting vulnerable immigrants from many countries and across many industries, according to Canadian immigration lawyer, Will Tao.
“I know for India, this year you’re looking at… by year end we’re going to have about 80,000-plus study permits issued and that’s been going on the rise for the last four years,” Tao said.
In India, for example, there are numerous advertisements promoting a move to Canada, which can lead students to unlicensed agents who facilitate illegal immigration services.
Tao said in one immigration fraud scheme, a prospective immigrant pays an agent in Canada a lump sum of money, on a promise to get help with the immigration process.
Tao said he’s seen cases where an immigrant pays well over $50,000. He said a portion of that sum of money is given to an employer, who then uses that money to cover the employee’s wages, and to profit.
“A lot of the consultants who do this kind of immigration work are not licensed or are kind of unscrupulous and they take these as fees, as part of their consultant fees, immigration fees and many times students are unaware, they’re told this is a very common practice and without knowledge of the law it’s very easy for them to get caught up in something like this,” Tao said.
Tao said in many cases employers go back on their word, forcing people to go underground and years later, try to make a case for humanitarian and compassionate exceptions to avoid deportation.
“It has to become some sort of an epidemic or multiple incidents or a larger scale fraud before government steps in,” Tao said.
B.C.’s Labour Minister, Harry Bains, is promising changes to B.C.’s Employment Standards Act, while urging others to come forward.
“If you feel your rights are being violated, please come forward, we’ll support you and more support is on the way because we are modernizing the employment standards branch so we can proactively go audit employers if complaints are filed of violations,” Bains said.
WATCH: Concerning allegations from employees of two Subway locations in Aldergrove
“Those who violate those minimum standards and employment laws in B.C. will not be tolerated,” Bains said, “I expect all of those people, whether agents, applicants, potential immigrants, obey the law, follow the law.”
He said the advice to any non-unionized worker is to go to the Employment Standards Branch website or to call at 1-800-663-3316, or to go to one of their head office locations and file a formal complaint.
The branch receives a complaint and starts working towards a mutual resolution between the employer and the employee. If that’s not possible, a solution will be enforced.
“There is a fear right now that if they come forward that maybe they will be sent back home maybe they will lose their job, I want to make sure they have an avenue without fear, without intimidation, without fear of losing their job and immigration status, that they are able to come out and file their complaints and that there are very efficient ways of investigating their claims and that justice is served,” Bains added.
WATCH: B.C.’s service industry taking a hit due to labour shortage
Students are encouraged to take advantage of the province’s settlement service agency supports which offer information and help to students in trying to understand the immigration and work permitting process as well as employment counselling to help students find new job opportunities.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) said it’s primarily up to provinces and territories to enforce labour standards but any suspected violations of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act should be reported to the Canada Border Service Agency.
“An employer employing a foreign national in a capacity that they are not authorized to be employed in would be a violation of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, carrying a possible penalty of an up to $50,000 fine, imprisonment of up to two years, or both,” IRCC communications advisor Shannon Ker said in an email.