Complaint-based systems failing abused foreign workers: expert

An expert in the abuse of temporary foreign workers says governments expecting a complaints-based approach to catch problems are fooling themselves.

Provinces who think it works 'dreaming in Technicolor', law prof says

Manitoba targeted an investigation into sushi restaurants because the industry regularly hires foreign workers. (CBC)

An expert in the abuse of temporary foreign workers says governments expecting a complaints-based approach to catch problems are fooling themselves.

The only way for this legislation to have teeth is if there is proactive enforcement.- Fay Faraday, expert in the abuse of temporary foreign workers

Fay Faraday of Osgoode Hall Law School at York University said she’s found most temporary foreign workers are afraid to complain because they don’t want to get kicked out of the country.

"To the extent that any of these processes depend on individual migrant workers coming forward and filing complaints, you're dreaming in Technicolor if you think there's going to be enforcement," said Faraday.

Faraday said most provinces, like Saskatchewan, rely on complaints, whereas Manitoba has pioneered an effective proactive system of enforcement, conducting "stings" on suspect industries.

In October, new legislation came into effect in Saskatchewan which is designed to protect foreign workers.

Faraday said it gives the province the power to inspect businesses employing migrant workers.

"In practical terms, the only way for this legislation to have teeth is if there is proactive enforcement."

Saskatchewan enforces by complaints

Saskatchewan’s minister responsible for immigration said his ministry relies on a complaints-based system and he believes it reveals there are few problems.

Bill Boyd made the comment last week as he revealed the province is investigating allegations by temporary foreign workers against Western Star Inn and Suites.

We get very few complaints- Bill Boyd, Minister responsible for immigration

"I’d stress on relatively rare occasions we find these types of situations," Boyd told CBC’s iTeam

However, he insisted, "the vast, vast majority of employers are extremely responsible when it comes to these types of things."

Boyd said he believes this "because we get very few complaints." 

Boyd said in 2008 Saskatchewan began its Program Integrity Unit, which is responsible for investigating abuses of migrant workers.

It has receive fewer than 40 complaints from those workers.

Manitoba does surprise investigations

That’s just what Manitoba Labour and Immigration has found too.

The manager of the Special Investigations Unit Jay Short said it’s rare for temporary foreign workers to complain. 
Jay Short of Manitoba's Special Investigations Unit said it's rare for temporary foreign workers to complain. (CBC)

"Yet, when we go out to review workplaces that employ those workers, we do find violations of the legislation."

His unit, in operation since 2009, regularly runs "sting" operations targeting specific industries.

It examines whether businesses are following the law when it comes to overtime and holiday pay for temporary foreign workers and other vulnerable employees.

In 2012, the unit conducted an investigation into sushi restaurants which heavily rely on workers from other countries.

"It was actually the project where we found the most non-compliance. We found 95 per cent non-compliance in that industry," Short told CBC’s iTeam.

Short’s team found the same sort of thing this past winter during a sweep of northern Manitoba restaurants, which also employ many foreign workers.

They found 80 per cent of those businesses were failing to comply with minimum standards related to overtime, minimum wage and holiday pay.

"Needless to say we didn’t get a lot of complaints filed by workers working in those northern restaurants but when we went out we found quite a bit of non-compliance."

Short said this proactive approach is effective "because it does take the onus off of very vulnerable individuals from having to come forward and putting their name out there."

Sask Minister open to 'sting' operations

Regarding this sort of proactive approach Boyd said "we haven’t gone that far at this point in time."

However, he said he is open to the idea.

"I think that’s probably a good suggestion that we could be looking closer at the LMOs and the Temporary Foreign Workers’ situation, that’s not a bad thing," Boyd told CBC’s iTeam. 

In the meantime, Boyd said "if there are temporary foreign workers out there that feel that their situation has not been handled properly in any fashion, we would be happy to look into it.""I think that’s probably a good suggestion that we could be looking closer at the LMOs and the Temporary Foreign Workers’ situation, that’s not a bad thing," Boyd told CBC’s iTeam. 
Bill Boyd, the minister responsible for Saskatchewan immigration, said he'd be open to taking a more proactive approach to protect migrant workers.

And an official with his ministry, Kirk Westgard, said foreign workers have all the rights and responsibilities that Canadians enjoy.

"Just because they make a complaint to the government does not mean they will be deported or sent back to their home country."

The Temporary Foreign Workers Program has been a source of ongoing controversy across the country. The federal employment minister Jason Kenney has put parts of it on hold and is reviewing the entire thing.

He’s promising changes in the weeks to come.

Sent home after complaining

A temporary foreign worker who took the unusual step of complaining about his work situation says he got sent home after telling Canadian officials.

In 2009, the federal government approved Abdul Tarabuco to work at a fast-food chain in Regina, after his employer demonstrated no qualified Canadian worker wanted the job there.

However, when he arrived from the Philippines, Tarabuco was sent to work in Prince Albert.

The Temporary Foreign Worker Program allows employees to work only in the approved city.

"I didn’t think twice because the job here in Canada is much better," said Tarabuco.

After problems with his expenses and housing came up, Tarabuco went to an immigration consultant to find out what to do.

It was recommended he approach Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) and alert officials of the violation.

He was told by CIC to quit his job because there was "something wrong" with his papers.

Tarabuco said he immediately quit his job. Then he waited to hear from CIC.

When he did, it wasn’t good news for him.

"The CIC told me that I need to go back to the Philippines and reapply again for another LMO," he said.

After working only eight months on his two year contract, he purchased a one-way plane ticket for $900 and flew back home.

"I had no choice, sir, I had to go back to the Philippines," Tarabuco told a CBC reporter.

Now back in Canada as a permanent resident and working in Saskatoon, Tarabuco said some of his colleagues he worked with before being being sent back to the Philippines continue to work in violation of their work permits.

"They are afraid to complain because they might be kicked out from Canada. So they remain silent."


Geoff Leo

Senior Investigative Journalist

Geoff Leo is a Michener Award nominated investigative journalist and a Canadian Screen Award winning documentary producer and director. He has been covering Saskatchewan stories since 2001.


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