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Aquilini company responds to claims they withheld pay to blueberry farm workers

Last Updated May 21, 2019 at 6:09 pm PDT

FILE - Cartons of wild blueberries are for sale at a roadside stand in Woolwich, Maine on July 27, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Robert F. Bukaty
Summary

Aquilini shared a letter on Twitter that had been sent to employees following last week's Ministry of Labour order

The company's response says all the employees from Guatemala were paid in full for the hours they worked

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini and his company have denied withholding wages from dozens of temporary foreign workers at a Pitt Meadows blueberry farm owned by his billionaire family.

On Tuesday, he shared a letter on Twitter that had been sent to employees following last week’s Ministry of Labour order to pay more than $130,000 in back pay to 174 farm workers.

The employees claimed they were promised 40 hours of work per week for six months, but only worked full-time for a month before their shifts at the Golden Eagle Farm were reduced. The foreign workers were making $11.35 an hour.

The company’s response, attributed to Senior Vice-President Jim Chu, says all the employees from Guatemala were paid in full for the hours they worked.

RELATED: Aquilini family ordered to pay $130k in wages to temporary foreign workers 

The statement also alleges some of the workers from Guatemala left the farm without notice and “went missing.” It says while in past years the Guatemalan employees had been farmers, in 2018 more of the workers were “city people.”

The owners of the Canucks were also fined $53,000 by WorkSafeBC for transporting farm workers in an unsafe vehicle. The letter sent to employees says the company will be making significant changes to their health and safety practices because of the incident, though it says the company was not made aware of the vehicle’s deficiencies at the time.

With files from Renee Bernard and Lauren Boothby.