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B.C. court upholds $500K wages fine against port trucking companies

Regulator's audit found companies owed employee drivers $1.6M
A container trucking company (not pictured) serving Lower Mainland ports remains liable for a $500,000 fine. | Rob Kruyt, BIV

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has upheld a $500,000 B.C. Container Trucking Commissioner fine levied against two companies for under-paying drivers and then trying to cover it up during an audit.

“The discretion to impose the $500,000 penalty was well-considered, explained, and not arbitrary,” Justice Anita Chan said in her Sept. 12 decision regarding Gulzar Transport Inc. and Jet Speed Transport Inc., which provide shipping container trucking services for Lower Mainland marine ports.

The companies are owned by Satnam Singh Sidhu and wife Sunpreet Kaur Sidhu, Chan said.

Under the 2014-created Container Trucking Act, the commissioner’s office was established to regulate licences and set minimum wages.

Using those powers, the office audited the companies' 2018 payroll records. The initial audit found all to be in order until a driver provided records the office had not seen.

That led to records being seized.

“In November 2018, the auditor issued an interim report, finding incomplete records, inconsistent information in the seized records when compared with the records provided by the companies in the initial audit, and multiple sets of log books with conflicting information,” Chan said.

The audit expanded and more documents were requested from the companies.

Ultimately, the auditor determined that an amount of approximately $97,000 was owing to the independent truck owner-operators, which the companies paid in May 2019.

With regard to employee drivers, the companies disagreed with the auditor’s methodology for calculating payments and did not do the calculations, Chan said.

The auditor calculated the amount at almost $1.6 million, the judge said.

The commissioner sought to cancel the companies' licences.

The companies resisted that, and had an accountant calculate wages owing, finding it to be $262,944.12 for April 2014 to April 2019.

A series of reconsiderations and judicial reviews followed. In the second reconsideration, the commissioner decided on the $500,000 fine.

The companies challenged that amount as severe.

Chan, however, said the commissioner’s decisions were not unreasonable.