Polish Welders Sue Employers, College For $5.5 Million

Polish welders sue employers, college for $5.5 million
Immigrants claim they were duped by job ads

Sarah ODonnel
The Edmonton Journal
Saturday, December 23, 2006

EDMONTON – A group of 30 Polish welders who say they were brought to work in Canada under false pretences are suing an energy services company, Lakeland College and three individuals for more than $5.5 million.

The lawsuit, filed in Edmonton's Court of Queen's Bench on Monday, makes two main claims:

– That the men believed they were being hired by Kihew Energy Services Ltd. to work in Alberta as full-time welders, not full-time students as their visas said.

– And that once here, they received inadequate pay for their work, earning $10 to $12 an hour from Kihew while four companies contracted with Kihew paid up to $28 an hour for their services.

“The actions of the defendants were designed to entice the plaintiffs to travel to Canada on false pretences to work for a grossly reduced wage below fair market and as such the actions of the defendants have been highhanded, egregious and calculated to take advantage of the immigrant workers,” the lawsuit says.

The suit names as defendants Lakeland College, Lakeland's Board of Governors, Lakeland's Academic Council and Paul Myshaniuk, the former general manager of the business unit at the college's Strathcona County campus.

Kihew Energy Services, as well as John Lipinski and Calvin Steinhauer, both directors of the company, are also named in the lawsuit. None of the allegations included in the statement of claim have been proven and none of the defendants have filed a statement of defence.

The court action comes one month after Alberta's Auditor General raised questions around Lakeland College's involvement in the program where the college collected more than $200,000 in tuition from Kihew to educate students who attended virtually no classes.
Auditor General Fred Dunn said in his report on Lakeland's contracting practices that the former general manager and three people who reported to him also failed to follow the college's policy about who can issue letters to Citizenship and Immigration Canada verifying international student registration. As many as 158 letters were sent to the federal agency. Alberta's Advanced Education minister and Lakeland's Board of Governor's had both asked for the investigation. The RCMP's immigration and passport section continues to investigate the issue, RCMP spokesman Cpl. Wayne Oakes said this week.

Meanwhile, Citizenship and Immigration Canada have issued six-month work permits to the men in place of their student visas, the welders' lawyer, Sol Rolingher said.

The welders' statement of claim says the men responded to ads placed by Kihew, Lipinski and Steinhauer in newspapers, online and in churches throughout Poland between March and May 2005 seeking foreign nationals to provide welding services in Canada.

“Nowhere in the advertisements was any reference made to attending a post-secondary educational institute on a full-time basis; nor were any references made to student visas,” the lawsuit says.

According to the statement of claim, the men quit their jobs in Poland and entered into preliminary contracts, agreeing to work for Kihew for a year. The contract indicated that the men would earn a stipend during “the brief training period” in the amount of $10 per workshop hour.

The lawsuit says the men believed the training period would be minimal and would “simply require the plaintiffs to become familiar with the rules of the labour code of the employer and take an exam within a one-year period.”

The welders arrived in Canada on various dates in late 2005 and 2006. They went to work full-time at Almac Machine Works Ltd., Hyduke Energy Services Inc., Panax Oil & Gas Inc. and North West Crane Ltd., according to the lawsuit. They learned they were in Canada improperly on student visas in September 2006. They are asking a judge for damages of at least $185,000 each for inducement to travel to Canada under false pretenses, for all expenses incurred for travel to Canada and termination of their employment in Poland, for overtime pay and holiday pay, for services provided to employers and for punitive damages.