Quebec’s labour standards board has opened an investigation into working conditions at a branch of the Church of Scientology in Quebec City.
The investigation follows a report by Radio-Canada’s investigative news program, Enquête, which revealed some of the organization’s staff in Quebec City were being paid salaries well below minimum wage.
Geneviève Trudel, a spokesperson for the Commission des normes du travail (CNESST), said the board is looking into the situation.
She didn’t provide any details on what exact steps might be taken, however, because the investigation is ongoing.
Under Article 105 of the Act Respecting Labour Standards, the province’s labour laws, the CNESST doesn’t need a complaint to be filed before it can launch an investigation, Trudel told Radio-Canada in an email.
The organization “holds that power in relation to its responsibility to monitor the implementation and enforcement of labour standards,” she wrote.
Among the examples of low pay cited in its program, Enquête obtained a pay stub that showed a staff member working in the provincial capital in December 2017 was paid just under $70 for what appeared to be nearly 39 hours of work.
That’s less than $2 an hour — and far less than the minimum wage, which was $11.25 per hour at the time in Quebec.
The Church of Scientology of Quebec — the official name of the organization’s branch in Quebec City — refused Enquête‘s request for an interview.
In an email, however, a spokesperson said the organization doesn’t have “employees.”
“Church of Scientology of Quebec staff members are not ’employees,’ but religious workers,” said Michelle Lacombe, the group’s director of public affairs.
“They voluntarily contribute to the activities of the church and its humanitarian goals. They don’t work for monetary gain, but to help others,” Lacombe wrote.
However, the concept of “religious workers” doesn’t exist under the province’s labour laws, said Dalia Gesualdi-Fecteau, a law professor at the University of Quebec in Montreal who specializes in labour law.
“It seems to me like a structured way to get cheap labour,” Gesualdi-Fecteau said.
Quebec labour minister responds
After Enquête‘s report aired earlier this week, Labour Minister Dominique Vien said she was concerned by its findings.
“I’ve asked the CNESST to look into what’s happening,” Vien told Radio-Canada.
Parti Québécois MNA Agnès Maltais, who represents the riding of Taschereau, where the Church of Scientology of Quebec is located, said Wednesday the revelations were “unacceptable” and “troubling.”
Maltais called on the CNESST to launch an investigation.
Unlike court decisions, the result of CNESST investigations aren’t made public, Trudel told Radio-Canada.