An email from a recruiting firm to a Saskatchewan restaurant gives Canadians a window into the kind of intimidation tactics sometimes used against temporary foreign workers, a Toronto law professor says.
Fay Faraday, who teaches at Osgoode Hall and is the author of Profiting from the Precarious: How Recruitment Practices Exploit Migrant Workers, said the advice International Manpower gave to Houston Pizza about workers who have developed "Canadianized" attitudes is troubling.
We believe a simple reminder to the workers will reverse the effects of the Canadian influence.- Email from recruiting firm to Houston Pizza in Estevan, Sask.
"I'm not surprised by the practices. We've heard about these kind of practices for years," Faraday explained. "I'm surprised that someone has actually written it down."
According to the email, which was obtained by CBC's iTeam, the Saskatoon-based recruiter told Houston Pizza in Estevan, Sask., that some employers of temporary foreign workers find that over time, the workers "become 'Canadianized' and increase their demands on the employers.'"
"We believe a simple reminder to the workers will reverse the effects of the Canadian influence," it says.The 2011 email essentially suggested telling such "Canadianized" workers that if things don't work out, they could be sent home.
International Manpower is part of the Mercan Group of companies which helps employers across Canada recruit temporary foreign workers to jobs many Canadians don't want.
In the email, the firm notes that the restaurant is supporting the bid of some Filipino workers to become permanent residents of Canada through the Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program (SINP).
It adds that "since you are supporting them for SINP, you can choose to withdraw your support."
"An employer choosing to withdraw their support is not punishing their workers, rather, showing them they (the employers) has the right to support them or not."
Apparently, among the worker demands the company was referring to were requests for time off.
The email reminds the restaurant owners that "time off must meet the employer's schedule NOT the workers."
International Manpower has declined CBC's request for an interview but in an email it explained that its role is to advise clients of the rules.
"We encourage our clients to remind the temporary foreign workers that Canadians and permanent residents always get the first opportunity for all jobs in Canada and the temporary foreign worker is in Canada to support the employer where the Canadian citizens/permanent residents cannot."
Letter called a 'bully' tactic
A Saskatchewan man who was shown the letter by his Filipino girlfriend said he couldn't believe what he was reading.
The way I read it was, 'How to bully foreign workers into following your rules.'- John Stevens
"The way I read it was, 'How to bully foreign workers into following your rules,'" John Stevens said.
Stevens started dating the Filipino woman in 2012, about six months after she arrived in Canada to work as a server at the restaurant.
She doesn't want to be named for fear of repercussions.
The email was stapled to his girlfriend's first pay stub, Stevens said.
"I saw it as a passive-aggressive act to try to reel in the foreign workers to let them know that ultimately the employer is in control."
One of the owners of the restaurant, Robin Garchinski, acknowledged he may have attached the email to a workers pay stub, though he can't be certain because it was more than two years ago.
According to Garchinski, there's nothing objectionable in the email.
"What I read there, it was really no threat," Garchinski explained.
Instead, it's a simple reminder of the terms under which the temporary foreign workers are hired, he said.
"They signed that contract before they even come here that they have their job specific [to] this location only and I don't have to sign their permanent residence to keep their paperwork going," he said.
"At the end of their term they can go home. That's pretty known stuff."
Filipino worker's hours cut
Stevens said he began investigating his girlfriend's paperwork because she was regularly getting fewer hours than promised.
He noted her contract said she'd receive 40 hours of work a week, but she would often get much less, he said.
"When things got really slow they were quite often given split shifts and they were given four, five maybe six hours a day," Stevens explained.
Garchinski agrees sometimes workers don't get 40 hours a week.
"It's based on my business. If my business says that I don't have enough hours for them, everybody's hours get cut back, Canadian and foreign workers."
Garchinski said, as he understands the contracts, foreign workers are owed "full-time hours" which can be between 32 and 40 hours a week.
Stevens said despite the violation of a key term of the contract his girlfriend didn't complain.
"She didn't want to make any waves. Of course, being in that program, if you upset your employer you could lose support for your permanent residence or your SINP."
Hidden tactics now in plain view
Law professor Fay Faraday said the email sends a troubling and intimidating message to temporary foreign workers.
"It signals very clearly that if you don't comply, there will be consequences." explained Faraday.
"Oftentimes what workers have told me is that employers tell them 'We own you. You have to do what we say. You have to abide by everything we say because we own your contract for the next however many years.'"
She said the workers have legitimate reason to be concerned. The Temporary Foreign Worker Program ties foreign workers to a specific employer and if the relationship goes sour the worker can be sent home.
"If they complain about how they're being treated they are regularly threatened with deportation. They are fired. They immediately become jobless."
According to Faraday this is not an unforeseen flaw in the program. She says it was built in.
"Those are features that have been deliberately designed into the program. They are mandatory elements of the program that tie workers to the employers."
You have a very toxic recipe that really is an invitation to exploitation.- Law professor Fay Faraday
She said the United Nations and others have raised concerns about these sorts of programs for years but they continue to be popular "because they ensure that employers are delivered a very compliant work force."
Faraday said very often the foreign workers have paid fees equivalent to two to three years worth of salary in their home country in order to get work in Canada.
"So they come to Canada under an enormous burden of debt to recruiters and to informal money lenders," she explained. "You have a very toxic recipe that really is an invitation to exploitation."
Faraday argued part of the solution is ensuring that foreign workers know their rights as soon as they arrive in Canada, if not before.
Temporary foreign workers have been in the news lately amid complaints by some that they are being used to replace Canadians in food service jobs.
Employers insist they need the program to cope with chronic labour shortages.
Employment Minister Jason Kenney said his department is now reviewing the temporary foreign worker program. Last month, he placed a temporary moratorium on restaurants, preventing them from accessing the program.