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Foreign workers in Canada afraid




Andrew Hanon


EDMONTON - News of charges against a company accused of mistreating temporary foreign workers brings a sense of grim satisfaction to Lyla Gray.

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EDMONTON - News of charges against a company accused of mistreating temporary foreign workers brings a sense of grim satisfaction to Lyla Gray.

"It makes me so angry," says the Edmonton woman, who has helped more than a dozen so-called TFWs. "It happens a lot. They need to charge more companies for taking advantage of people."

Platinum-Care.Com Corporation in Calgary, along with company directors Leahnette Acuna and Rossana Lim, were charged under the Fair Trading Act for allegedly charging two foreign workers $2,600 each for finding them jobs. Under the law, recruitment firms can only charge employers for finding workers.

Service Alberta Minister Heath Klimchuk says the pair had been trying to get their money back since December, 2008. When negotiations failed, the government laid the charges.

"The company has been given plenty of chances to refund the money," she said. "Our department worked very hard with them, and now we're into June. That's just not appropriate."

The company will appear in court on June 24.

Gray, a member of Edmonton's Filipino community, has met lots of TFWs through her church and friends. When the economy tanked in 2008 and they began losing their jobs, she took several into her home and helped them back on their feet.

She's also helped others who've been exploited and abused by employers and recruiters.

Tears well up when she thinks of Dennis Billones, a 47-year-old single man who came to Canada to make enough money to support his seven nieces and nephews, who were abandoned by their mother after Billones's brother died.

Billones paid a Filipino recruiter the equivalent of $4,000 to place him with a Vancouver firm, but when he arrived in B.C. he discovered to his horror that the company didn't exist.

He made his way to Edmonton, where he had heard there were lots of jobs. Eventually he found one and was in the process of getting the right work permits when he was diagnosed with terminal colorectal cancer. He died in 2008, never having worked a day in Canada or seeing his family again.

Gray used her travel points to take Billones's ashes back to his family in the Phillipines.

Another TFW told Gray about an Edmonton company where the foreign workers were told they had to live in the office.

"They weren't allowed to have the lights on after five, in case someone found out they were there," she says. "There were five or six of them, and they all had to pay $300 a month rent to their boss."

She encourages them to complain to the authorities, "but they hardly ever do. They're scared. They think they'll lose their jobs or get deported. They don't know their rights."

In 2007-08, Alberta Employment and Immigration received 99 complaints from TFWs about their employers. The following year that number had jumped to 330. Last year there were 351.

About 75% of complaints are proven valid. Most of them are related to overtime and holiday pay. Last year, employees were reimbursed more than $565,000.

But Terry Andruik of the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, which helps TFWs, says those numbers only scratch the surface.

Most TFWs are too afraid of being punished to complain. "Many still don't understand their rights and responsibilities, " she said.

Andruik said she's seeing an increasing number of "severe" cases, like people working 12-hour days, seven days a week.

"These are real people with real lives, and we're playing with them."


Economic sectors

Agriculture and horticulture workers, Occupations in services - Domestic work, Sales and service occupations - general, Trades, transport and equipment operators and related occupations - general, Natural resources, agriculture and related production occupations - general, Labourers in food, beverage and associated products processing, Dancers, and Other

Content types

Policy analysis and Documented cases of abuse

Target groups

Public awareness

Geographical focuses

Alberta and Philippines