Quebec Labour Ministry raids businesses allegedly linked to illegal network of temp workers
Eight different locations were served with search warrants Tuesday
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.
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.
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.
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."
With files from Radio-Canada