By Dennis Juarez, Manager of Migrant Workers Program
A migrant worker reached out – she had lost her job during the pandemic and did not have money to pay rent, buy food or commute. A staff settlement worker with MOSAIC’s Migrant Workers Program did an assessment and reported that the worker needed a variety of support, including help applying for CERB, and funds for housing, food, and transportation.
We provided her with grocery cards, bus passes, food hampers, referral to a food bank, and connected her to the Vancouver Association for Survivors of Torture for counselling. Additional support was provided for job searching and registering in educational sessions.
Some migrant workers need ongoing support like this that can last for over one year.
Migrant workers, non-government funded agencies, advocates and grassroot agencies have been advocating in support of temporary foreign workers’ rights for a long time. Many changes have been done, such has the launch of the Open Work Permit for Vulnerable Workers from Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada, recruitment licensing and formation of an employer registry by the Ministry of Labour.
In my experience – through case management, workers’ stories and outreach work – I have learned that migrant workers who come to BC are more vulnerable if they do not have family and friends in BC, lack English, if it’s their first time in Canada, if they are working in remote/ rural areas, lack transportation, have no settlement support, and lack knowledge of their rights.
Migrant workers have shared that some employers are understanding, culturally aware, and are welcoming. However, many – especially in agriculture – have shared stories of ongoing abuses, and these have increased since the start of the pandemic. Issues reported to us include:
- Financial abuse: underpaid, no contract/ paystubs, no breaks, sick time, vacation, and unfair dismissal;
- Psychological abuse: insulting, intimidating, humiliating, threatening remarks;
- Sexual abuse: inappropriate interactions, forcing a worker to have non-consensual sex
- Physical abuse: all manners of physical abuse, often resulting in injury, and bad living conditions, forcing or pressuring a worker to work under conditions that are unsafe or pose a risk to their health;
- Misrepresentation of job descriptions: not honouring terms of a contract;
- Restriction of movement: confiscating a passport, not allowing a worker to leave a farm or house, and limiting access to resources.
During the start of COVID-19, the Ministries of Labour, Agriculture and Health, and the Mexican Consulate, reached out to MOSAIC seeking support for temporary foreign workers who were quarantining. MOSAIC enlisted the help of other agencies that are part of MOSAIC’s Community Capacity Building Project, funded by the Government of Canada’s Migrant Worker Support Network. Together, we took the workers for outings to prevent isolation, and prepared and distributed over 3,000 hampers that included snacks, food, Protective Personal Equipment (PPE), and educational material.
Misrepresentation of contract
Cases we hear about and help with seem endless. We were involved with a temporary foreign worker from Mexico who was hired by a janitorial company to work as a project manager on a full-time, permanent contract. Instead, she was forced to work primarily as a cleaner after the employer threatened to send her back home. She also experienced bullying, verbal abuse, and was underpaid. She was denied vacation time, sick time and breaks.
After connecting with MOSAIC, she attended several online educational sessions about workers’ rights, got Food Safe and First Aid Training, and we supported her with an Employment Standards complaint, Online Fraud Reporting from Service Canada, and submitted an application for open work permit for vulnerable workers.
We also provided her with grocery cards, bus passes, food hampers, and a housing income subsidy from one of our collaborating agencies. When approval for the open work permit for vulnerable workers arrived, she was able to look for employment.
We are proud to have been part of these success stories, and we will continue working to educate, inform and support migrant workers as part of MOSAIC’s Migrant Workers Program services.
December 18 is International Migrants Day, an annual commemoration to recognize the contributions and rights of migrants worldwide. This year’s theme is ‘We Together’ – find out more here.