Montreal

Quebec Labour Ministry raids businesses allegedly linked to illegal network of temp workers

Eight different locations were served with search warrants, including a meat-processing factory south of Montreal.

Eight different locations were served with search warrants Tuesday

This man was recruited by a temp agency to work at Sherrington Meats on Montreal's South Shore when he hadn't yet received his work permit. He was badly injured in a 2017 accident at the meat-processing plant. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

Investigators with Quebec's Labour Ministry carried out raids Tuesday that targeted a network of temp agencies suspected of supplying low-paid, undocumented workers to businesses in Montreal and the Montérégie region.

In all, eight different places were served with search warrants, the ministry said in a news release.

"These [raids] came following information about a possible fraudulent strategy that targeted vulnerable workers, sometimes without work permits," the Labour Ministry said.

The ringleaders of the network could face criminal charges, the ministry said.

Sherrington Meats raided

A spokesperson refused to provide further details about the businesses that were searched Tuesday. However, CBC News witnessed provincial police and Labour Ministry officials enter a meat-processing plant south of Montreal on Tuesday morning.

CBC News witnessed provincial police and Labour Ministry officials enter Sherrington Meats, a meat-processing plant south of Montreal, on Tuesday morning. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

Last year, a CBC News investigation revealed that in 2017, that factory — Sherrington Meats — had employed at least one asylum seeker who had been given a fake identity under which to work by a temp agency.

The CBC investigation identified the temp agency that supplied workers to Sherrington Meats as YUL Embauche — one of several different names associated with the same agency.

The asylum seeker, who CBC has agreed to call Paulo in order to protect his identity, was paid only $10 an hour — $1.25 less than minimum wage at the time.

He was put to work on a machine that skins the fat off pork. Paulo said his training consisted of being shown how to turn the machine on and off. Within minutes, he'd skinned his hand so badly that he had to undergo an emergency skin graft.

For months after his 2017 workplace accident, something as simple as boiling water to make rice was nearly impossible for Paulo. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

Temp worker scarred

Paulo welcomed the news of Tuesday's raids. He said he hoped more oversight of temp agencies in Quebec will prevent other workers from going through what he did. 

"The accident was terrible. It was very serious. It's taken a lot of time to recuperate," he said.

"The accident left a scar in my memory. It hurts every time I think about it."

Paulo, originally from Haiti, crossed into Quebec at the Lacolle border with his wife in the summer of 2017. He was eager to work to support his two children.

He was still waiting for his work permit when he was recruited by the temp agency, which was eager to exploit that eagerness, he said.

'It's improving, but it's still not 100 per cent,' Paulo said of the hand that was damaged so badly he required an emergency skin graft. He said his training on the pork fat-skinning machine consisted of being shown how to turn it off and on. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

The raids were also welcomed by advocates for migrant workers in Quebec, who have long called for more regulation of temp agencies.

"We need to make sure these people are not taking advantage of any newcomers," said Frantz André, who runs an advocacy group for Haitians without status.

He said many temp agencies pay undocumented workers in cash and less than minimum wage. Their uncertain immigration status means they are often afraid to report workplace abuse to authorities, André added.

Paulo has not been able to work since the accident. With André's help, he was eventually able to receive compensation from Quebec's workplace safety board, known as CNESST.

The payments are barely enough to cover his expenses and support his children, one of whom is still in Haiti. Moreover, Paulo says, he enjoys working.

"I don't like it when people have to give me money," he said. "I like being able to earn my living."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jonathan Montpetit is a journalist with CBC Montreal. He will be a William Southam Journalism Fellow at Massey College in 2021-2022.

With files from Radio-Canada

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now