Foreign workers file human rights complaint against Manitoba trucking company

Former employees at Gladstone Transfer allege bullying, long hours and unsafe driving conditions

Several former employees of a Manitoba trucking company have filed a human rights complaint alleging they drove in unsafe conditions and were discriminated against because they were foreign workers.

Five long-haul truck drivers recruited from outside Canada filed the complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission in 2020 and 2021, saying they were treated unfairly compared to their Canadian colleagues.

Mirsad Herceglic, a former bodyguard for diplomats in Afghanistan, said his job working for Gladstone Transfer Ltd. was more stressful than his bodyguard job.

“I spent, like, 10 years working around, in a dangerous and a hostile environment. And I was, like, under … less stress in Afghanistan than in Canada,” Herceglic told CBC News from his home in Gladstone, Man., which is about 135 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

Originally from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Herceglic was recruited to work for Gladstone Transfer in 2019 after an interview with company owner Scott Kinley.

He said the company took advantage of him once he arrived by forcing him to work long hours away from home and not paying him when he took federally mandated breaks during his long hauls to British Columbia.

“If you come here with a family … and someone [is] taking advantage of you, that’s not okay for me,” he said.

No overtime: complaint

CBC News spoke to seven former employees of Gladstone Transfer who believe their treatment by the company is based on the fact they are not Canadian.

They allege the company took advantage of the precarious nature of their immigration status by overworking and bullying them, because their employer knew the workers were reliant on the job. 

Herceglic was one of five workers who filed a complaint with the commission, alleging the drivers were subjected to discriminatory treatment linked to their national or ethnic origin.

CBC News was provided with a summary report of the complaint, authored by a human rights officer with the commission.

The report is not a decision by the commissioner but was created to help the members of the commission decide on the next steps in the complaint.

The summary report says the foreign workers allege they were: 

  • Underpaid compared to Canadian drivers and not paid overtime. 
  • Compelled to drive defective trucks in unsafe driving conditions.
  • Sent on trips for extended periods of time without returning home, which was not required of Canadian drivers.
  • Forced to “reset” on the road — meaning they had to spend 36 hours of their own time away from home in order to comply with federal driving regulations, which require truck drivers to take a 36-hour rest (or reset) after driving 70 hours over a seven-day period. 
  • Shouted and sworn at by managers who threatened to withdraw support, which could result in the foreign workers having to leave Canada.

Recently, the complainants got a letter from the commission, saying it was sending the complaint to conciliation.

A meeting is scheduled for later this month to go over the details and discuss a possible settlement agreement between the company and the complainants. 

The report included quotations from the complainants, including one by Herceglic where he said Gladstone Transfer “misused most [foreign] workers to the maximum since each worker who arrived had a closed working permit, which did not allow the possibility to change jobs.”

Three of the workers came to Canada under a closed work permit through Manitoba’s provincial nominee program, which meant they could only stay in Canada as long as they were working at Gladstone Transfer.

The commission’s report also quotes two workers who wrote a letter in support of the complainants’ allegations.

In the report, two former employees allege Kinley called the foreign workers’ permit a “golden ticket” that he could take away, then send them back home.

The report concluded by saying that based on witness statements and documentary evidence, there is a “reasonable basis to support that the alleged conduct may have occurred.” However, the report also said there are “conflicting versions” of events from both sides. 

Allegations employees were underpaid

Herceglic had an accident while driving a truck, and he says that increased the harassment from the company. They pushed him hard and forced him to take long-haul trips to B.C., which meant he was away from his family for weeks without getting paid premiums for the extended hours, he said.

“I was like physically and mentally exhausted completely,” he said.

The company told the commission Herceglic’s work permit meant he was not entitled to premiums, but the commission notes that Herceglic’s offer of employment indicated his pay included premiums.

Herceglic said he was required to drive a semi for thousands of kilometres in the summer without air conditioning, which at times caused dizziness and resulted in a safety issue, he said.

Ultimately he was fired by the company in 2020, a humiliation he said made him feel like an “abandoned dog,” he told CBC.

He went months without a job until he was granted an open work permit and hired at a personal care home. He is now a permanent resident of Canada.

Company denies allegations

Kinley, whose family has owned the company since it opened in 1949 in Gladstone, declined to be interviewed for this story.

In a prepared statement, Kinley declined to comment on the human rights complaints, but did say “all allegations are denied.”

He said the company has successfully recruited “numerous employees” through Canada’s temporary foreign worker program.

A recent audit by the federal government found the company complied with its obligations to foreign workers and “to the best of our knowledge,” they are compliant with Manitoba Public Insurance licensing requirements, his statement said.

A sign that says. "Welcome to Gladstone, home of the Happy Rock."
Gladstone Transfer opened in 1949 in Gladstone, Man. (Warren Kay/CBC)

Ken Crawford, the operations manager during the period of complaints, told CBC News that all workers were treated fairly under his watch.

He said there was a graduated pay scale that resulted in drivers getting paid less when they first came to Canada. He always paid overtime and everyone received proper training, he said.

They provided housing and helped new workers furnish their homes, register their kids for school and find employment for their spouses, he said. 

In a written response to the commission, the company said four of the five complainants were fired — alleging one worker left the scene of an accident, another one was caught speeding and another had “performance concerns” that included making “false allegations” against Kinley.

Herceglic was placed on a “last chance” agreement after getting into a car accident and was fired after refusing to do his reset on the road, the company says.

Herceglic denies that and told the commission the reasons for his firing are a “distortion of truth.”

Other employees

Matthew Barrett, a British foreign worker who is not part of the human rights complaint, said he had difficulties during his time as a truck driver for the company from 2016 to 2018.

In an interview with CBC, he said he was dispatched on trips that could not provide the required amount of rest and sleep, resulting in safety issues.

A portrait of a man with light brown hair and blue eyes wearing a dark grey t-shirt.
Matthew Barrett worked for Gladstone Transfer for two years and says he was forced break federal rules in order to make deliveries in time. (Warren Kay/CBC)

“I get my dispatch and it would say, ‘You need to be in Kelowna by 3 p.m. the next day,’ and I would say, ‘Well, that’s impossible. I still need my eight hours break,'” Barrett said.

Barrett left Gladstone Transfer in 2018, but could stay in Canada because he was already a permanent resident.

He tried to join the others and file a complaint, but it was rejected by the commission because he filed too long after leaving the company.

Local MLA concerned

Agassiz MLA Eileen Clarke, a provincial cabinet minister, said she has been contacted by over a dozen former employees with concerns about the company.

“It was very clear to me that there was some very serious concerns that had to be dealt with,” Clarke said in an interview with the CBC.

“It really tears me apart. And people should not have to struggle like that when they come to Canada. And to think that it’s in a community where I’ve lived all my life, and I have very high esteem for the people in my community,” Clarke said.

Agassiz MLA Eileen Clarke says she has been contacted by over a dozen former employees with concerns about the company. (Ian Froese/CBC)

“It’s a very black mark on our community.”

Kinley said in his statement to CBC News that Clarke has “no involvement” and knows “no facts” about what happened at the company, which shows a “total lack of respect for the legal process.”