Couple sentenced for mistreating foreign workers

Workers from Philippines worked under terrible conditions at EconoLodge in Gasoline Alley

Alberta Labour Minister Christina Gray condemned the mistreatment of foreign workers on Friday, a day after a Red Deer couple were sentenced for exploiting workers.

“All workers deserve fair, safe and healthy work environments,” said Gray in an emailed statement. “Mistreatment of any workers, particularly vulnerable temporary foreign workers, is absolutely unacceptable.

“These workers are people trying to support their families, and no worker in Alberta should have to face treatment like this.”

The Red Deer couple were sentenced on Thursday for exploiting seven temporary foreign workers at an Econo Lodge in Red Deer County.

Ravinder Sidhu, 48, received a two-year conditional sentence for using false or misleading information to bring in immigrant workers.

Her husband, Varinder, 51, was fined $5,000 for failing to keep proper employment records.

Judge David Plosz chastised both of them Thursday, telling them “shame on you both” and telling them they have no one to blame but themselves.

Gray encouraged any temporary foreign worker experiencing abuse or mistreatment to contact the Temporary Foreign Worker Advisory Office, which offers confidential services.

She offered praise to the advisory office, which took the initial complaint about the Sidhus. The investigation eventually involved Employment Standards and the RCMP.

The Sidhus pleaded guilty to the charges in March.

During that emotional court appearance, four women and two men, all from the Philippines, testified how they were overworked, underpaid and fearful while working for the Sidhus, who ran the Gasoline Alley Econo Lodge Inn and Suites and the attached Holiday Liquor Store and Winks convenience store. A seventh victim was not present.

“When I came, I was thinking of a brighter future,” said one woman, reading her victim impact statement in court. However things “turned upside down” and “the excitement I felt turned into disappointment.”

The woman had hoped to send money home, but by the time she paid for food and her rent in the makeshift living space given to her, there was almost nothing left.

Other workers spoke of their fear of speaking out against their poor living conditions, the bad pay and unfair demands they be available to work at any time.

“No matter how hard I worked, it was never enough,” said one woman.

Court heard on Thursday that the wife paid the workers as little as $10 an hour, and one worker was told to do chores at the couple’s farm, which is a contract violation.

As well, she would house up to four workers in the same room while charging each of them the full monthly amount of $400 for accommodations.

Court was told the workers found themselves in a hostile situation, under constant threat that they would be deported if they told authorities about what was taking place.

The couple had previously been ordered to repay over $91,000 in wages to the workers after the violations were brought to light.

The Sidhus apologized for their actions, and defence lawyer Hersh Wolch said his clients were simply following bad advice they had received from an immigration expert.

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