Workers are coming forward and telling Castanet they are not being paid at Ric’s Grill, a downtown Kelowna steak house that has been battling money problems for months.
We were first alerted to the restaurant in February, when a chef told us he had not been paid in weeks and was due roughly $3,500 before he quit. That person did not want to be identified, but calls made to restaurant owners Sunny and Sal Gupta proved the man’s allegations were correct.
At the time, the brothers were quite forthright about the accusations, admitting there had been financial problems at the downtown location. They blamed the problems on a slow winter season, Bernard Avenue construction, and health complications that saw Sal forced in and out of Kelowna General Hospital.
“Kelowna is a very seasonal tourist town and we have to survive the winter and do the best we can in the summer,” says Sunny Gupta.
“We have fallen behind and then we catch up and then we fall behind and then we catch up. So we work with our employees and they work with us. In our seasonal business we do our very best and everyone does get paid. But we do fall behind a little bit – the winter months are just very tough.”
Now another employee has come forward with the same accusations, but this time it’s a temporary foreign worker who says he's being treated unfairly.
Vimal Kumar came over from India on a work visa program in February, and was owed around $4,000 when he first contacted Castanet last month. He was unsure exactly how much money was owed, due to the hazy situation he finds himself in.
Kumar says he does not receive pay stubs or time sheets, and typically works in excess of eight hours per day. He was paid out the above amount only days after speaking with Castanet, but he has not been paid since that date (June 17) and now complains about lack of scheduling and abusive working conditions.
Further complicating the matter is the two-year contract Kumar signed with a company called Inspire Consultants, a recruitment company based in India that set him up with this particular job .
He paid them a fee to facilitate this opportunity and now feels he cannot get out of the situation.
“I feel like I’m working here illegally,” says Kumar, who fears he has nowhere to turn for gainful employment without breaking his contract and being sent back to India.
“When I ask, they keep selling me the same story: wait for a month, wait for a month. Before they used to give me the tip out every two weeks; now they stop that.”
He also supports his family in India, and any money he makes in Canada is immediately sent home. His father is also very ill and depends on his son’s income to buy medicine.
“I’m a family man, I have a lot of commitments. Last time they paid $4,000 and that I sent back to my home for my father’s medication. I don’t have any money to buy anything. I don’t know what to do in this situation."
Kumar says he has seen at least 10 people quit over the past six months, and notes that two of his roommates – also from India – have not been paid either.
During Castanet’s conversation with the Gupta’s earlier this year, the pair would not divulge how many employees have been affected or how much money was owed, citing confidentiality. But they conceded that, “a dozen of our close senior staff have helped us out through the January slow season.”
According to the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training and Responsible for Labour, there are seven open complaints against the business, but the Employment Standards Branch can not provide information on open cases.
There have also been another seven complaints against Ric's Grill that have since been closed, including four in 2014.
These were resolved earlier this year and fell under: failure to pay wages at least semi-monthly and/or within eight days after the end of the pay period; and, failure to pay wages within the time period required when employment is terminated.
A mandatory penalty of $1,000 was levied against the business on at least two of these occasions.
When reached for comment on Tuesday, the Gupta's again acknowledged their financial difficulties, citing tax problems.
"The root cause of our problems lie with the government,” says Sunny Gupta.
“During the recession years we fell behind with them and now they’re doing a rapid catch up with us – more rapidly than our cash flow will allow.
“When I have to give 100 per cent of my money to the government, that doesn’t leave me with much money for everything else. So we’ve been scraping together whatever we can to pay our employees and keep the place running, so that we can continue to operate until we finish paying the government.
The pair are adamant in saying that all of their employees will eventually get paid in full, but do not know how long that will take.
"We are behind with payroll and we do have to pay everybody,” says Sunny.
“There will be an end to this, but it’s taken longer because (the government) has taken more funds than we’d expected them to take."
During Castanet's initial talk with the Gupta's, Sal had previously said, "This is the first time, in all the years we’ve been around, that we’ve been in this type of situation over the winter time."
“And we’ll get through this before this month (February) is over.”
It should be noted that the Ric's Grill location near the Kelowna airport is under different ownership/management than the downtown location.
If anyone has a similar story as a current or former employee of any of the Ric’s Grill locations or other restaurants owned by the Gupta's, we’d like to hear from you at [email protected]