By Daniel Tseghay
On April 7th, Rising Up Against Unjust Recruitment, a coalition of organizations and individuals in British Columbia who are concerned about the mistreatment of temporary foreign workers (TFWs), delivered an open letter to the office of Shirley Bond, BC’s Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training in Victoria. The coalition has yet to hear back from Bond’s office.
So far, 37 organizations have signed on to the letter which calls on the province to do more to protect temporary foreign workers from exploitation by recruiters and employers in the province.
Although it’s illegal for recruiters of migrant workers that are hired by employers to identify and help secure their work permits for new TFWs, to charge a fee prior to their employment, it still happens frequently. It’s common for such workers to be charged thousands of dollars because the law isn’t enforced well. Because it depends on the worker to make a complaint within 6 months, they’re unlikely to do so because their immigrant status is tied to their work permit. If they complain while they’re working at their new job, and their employer fires them, they can be deported. Thus workers are forced to accept the situation. One worker was charged $15,000 to do a job where he experienced wage theft. Despite working between 8 and 12 hour days, he was only paid for 6.
Workers often go into debt to pay these fees, as Rankandfile.ca previously covered in January. The combination of high debt, low pay, and temporary immigration status makes workers more likely to accept incredibly exploitative conditions. “Even before they reach Canada they are already in debt,” says Erie Maestro, from Migrante BC, an organization which is a member of the Rising Up coalition, in an interview with Rankandfile.ca. “When they come here it really makes their situation much worse. They can’t run away from their debts. It makes the whole situation of TFWs even more difficult and makes them even more vulnerable and precarious.”
The open letter calls for enhanced licensing of recruitment agencies, proactive investigation of workplaces, and access to information and advocacy for workers. The coalition says a strong and proactive regime is needed because migrant workers face barriers to reporting abuse. Most temporary foreign workers can only work for a specific employer under closed work permits, so they cannot complain about abuse without risking their job security and future in Canada.
The coalition calls on the province to apply some of the practices of other provinces, like Saskatchewan and Manitoba, which require that employers and recruiters place a bond which would be paid to workers if they pay a recruitment fee.
In BC, employers and recruiters aren’t even registered so it’s difficult monitoring the mistreatment of migrant workers. “In Manitoba, under the Worker Recruitment and Protection Act, they have legislated that employers and foreign worker recruiters register with the province,” says Maestro. “It also prohibits any direct or indirect fees charged to workers. They have an extra layer of security. The employers must post bond to cover any expenses workers incur illegally. In Manitoba, you know where your TFWs are working. If businesses are registered you know where to spot check. We don’t have that in BC.”
The coalition also wants to see the 6 month complaint period to be extended to 3 years.
“There’s no reason why BC can’t do it,” says Maestro, “because other provinces are doing it.”