Edmonton

Advocate wants mandatory health benefits for foreign workers

Businesses that employ temporary foreign workers should be required by law to provide them with health benefits, an Edmonton laywer and advocate Yessy Byl says.
Andrea, a former temporary foreign worker from the Philippines, is learning to walk with crutches with the help of physiotherapists at the University of Alberta. A crash in June 2012 left Andrea a quadriplegic. (CBC )

Businesses that employ temporary foreign workers should be required by law to provide them with health benefits, an Edmonton advocate says.

Lawyer Yessy Byl said many workers don’t understand benefit plans because they may not have them in their home countries.  

"What's covered, what isn't?” she said. “What does this mean to you?”

The issue has come to light this week with the case of Andrea, a worker from the Philippines.

Andrea, 29, came to Canada in November 2011. Seven months later, she was struck by a car while biking to work at a McDonald’s restaurant in Edmonton. Her spine injury left her quadriplegic

Andrea, who doesn’t want CBC News to use her real name, was unable to work after the crash.

Her visa expired in November 2012. Since she is in Canada illegally, she is no longer covered by Alberta health care.

Andrea is suing the local McDonald’s franchisee for medical and disability benefits she claims she was denied. But in a statement of defence, the franchisee claims the woman never signed up for the company’s health benefit plan.  

The allegations in the statement of claim and statement of defence have not been proven in court.

Byl said temporary foreign workers are particularly vulnerable when they become disabled in an accident, because they usually work for low wages in the service sector.

“So that concerns me,” she said. “If they only have Alberta health care, nothing else, then they're going to have some severe problems.”

Andrea is getting pro-bono health care while she remains in Canada. She has applied for permanent residency on "humanitarian and compassionate grounds."

Andrea said there aren’t as many supports available for disabled people in the Philippines. So she worries about what will happen if she is sent back.

If she can stay in Canada, she wants to return to school to become a social worker. 

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