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Nov 26

Laid-off employees take action

A St. Laurent company lauded by the provincial government for its treatment of minorities – and a recipient of nearly $124,000 in government assistance this year to hire, train and keep mainly immigrant workers – unexpectedly closed shop this fall.

Now, the 50 employees who lost their jobs at the beginning of October when Cellulab Inc. shut down want Quebec to come to their aid.

Backed by the Immigrant Workers’ Centre and the United Food and Commercial Workers union, a contingent of the laid-off Cellulab staff met for an hour and a half yesterday with a Montreal representative of Sam Hamad, the minister for employment and social solidarity.

The workers allege that Cellulab president Michel Auger has been increasingly mistreating his employees over the past year, worsening in June when pay became irregular then stopped altogether in August.

Five-year employee Benoît Godbout began to organize his co-workers to join UFCW Local 501 and on Oct. 1, the vast majority signed union cards.

« That day, Michel Auger called me at home to say Cellulab was going bankrupt and not to show up at work the next day, » Godbout recalled yesterday before an information picket was set up outside the Montreal Exchange tower, which houses Hamad’s local office.

The workers are still owed two month’s wages, vacation and termination pay. They also are having difficulty filing for unemployment insurance.

Godbout dismissed Auger’s claim the cellphone repair firm was in financial trouble, noting there was a three-week backlog of contract work for Motorola Inc., LG Electronics Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co.

Hamad attaché Alexandre Boucher confirmed yesterday that Cellulab was given $97,500 between Feb. 23 and Aug. 4 from a government program that helps businesses at risk during the economic slowdown to keep their employees.

Boucher said another $26,000 from Emploi-Québec also went to Cellulab this year to hire five immigrant workers.

Amir Khadir, the MNA for Mercier riding, offered support to the workers in the National Assembly yesterday calling on the ministers of employment and immigration to intervene.

« It’s a matter of dignity for the employees and the state, who were swindled in this whole affair, » he said. « It is unacceptable that it is closing its doors now that they received support from the state. »

In May, Cellulab was the private-sector recipient of the Prix Maurice-Pollack for what Immigration and Cultural Communities Minister Yolande James called its « efforts to bring cultures together and encourage the full participation of immigrants … by capitalizing on the talents and skills of workers of all backgrounds. »

Cellulab was recognized by James for hiring consultants specialized in the development of ethnocultural diversity and adaptation of services in the workplace to make it a stimulating place that took into account the needs and welfare of its employees.

The workers have filed a complaint with Quebec’s labour relations board.

Auger, who is also president of Quebec Multi-Plus Inc. – a non-profit organization with trainers and consultants in intercultural relations, couldn’t be reached for comment yesterday.

mking@thegazette.canwest.com

© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette

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