Quebec-based company Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP) pleaded guilty to 41 offences at the Granby courthouse on Friday after being accused of underpaying migrant workers.
Quebec's workplace safety board — the Commission des normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST) — withdrew 35 of 76 statements of offence it had previously issued the company.
The two parties reached a common agreement, lawyers for both sides explained to the court, avoiding a trial.
Last February, Radio-Canada exposed the differential treatment of Mexican workers at BRP's Valcourt plant in Quebec's Eastern Townships. At the time, the company stated that it deducted approximately 60 per cent of Mexican workers' wages to cover accommodations and other costs.
BRP admits it did not issue pay stubs to certain Mexican workers and it did not keep a register of workers. The company also acknowledges that it did not pay overtime in accordance with Quebec standards.
The CNESST's lawyer explained to the court that the company had been co-operative in this case. He requested the minimum penalty of $600 per statement of offence.
Minimum wage offence dropped
The CNESST withdrew the statements of offence for non-compliance with the legal minimum wage, as well as 10 other statements of offence for failure to issue pay slips.
According to Université de Sherbrooke law professor Finn Makela, the CNESST's decision to withdraw the 25 statements of offence for non-compliance with the minimum wage doesn't necessarily mean that the government agency has vindicated BRP.
"We can't conclude that they've been cleared, but at the same time, the presumption of innocence has been restored," he said.
He said it can be strategic to drop certain charges during negotiations to obtain an admission of guilt on other points.
Michel Pilon, director of a group that advocates for temporary foreign workers, the Réseau d'aide aux travailleuses et travailleurs migrants agricoles du Québec (RATTMAQ), says "the CNESST was right to file these penal complaints. They [BRP] were found guilty in these criminal complaints. There's still the civil file, since a criminal complaint doesn't reimburse workers, but the civil claim does."
BRP representatives said in an email they were "very pleased with the CNESST's decision to withdraw all the statements of offence relating to the minimum wage."
"We have always been convinced that we have paid our Mexican employees fairly and equitably," it said in a statement.
The company claims the other violations were due to "certain administrative errors" between the payroll systems of BRP's plants in Mexico and Valcourt.
"We have already rectified the situation and paid the amounts due to our affected employees," says the company.