Stopping the exploitation of foreign workers

By Jeffrey R. Smith (jeffrey.r.smith@thomsonreuters.com

The system for recruiting and employing immigrant workers in Canada can be a useful tool for employers looking to address needs that may not be easy to fill with homegrown workers, as well as immigrants looking to start a new life here or find work to support family at home.

Unfortunately, the system has been too easy to abuse for those looking to exploit immigrants who might not understand their rights or don’t have much of a choice. This has been particularly true for immigrants coming to Canada to work as nannies.

Pressure to do something about the exploitation of immigrant workers began to build after The Toronto Star revealed that a year-long investigation into the federal Live-in Caregivers Program was frequently abused by recruiters. Job-placement firms were recruiting nannies overseas with promises of jobs waiting for them in Canada and charging them thousands of dollars before the workers even arrived in the country. In many cases, there was no job once the workers set foot here.

Unscrupulous practices such as this were further exposed in the recent decision in Ontario small claims court that found Marivic Perlas Rivera, a 29-year-old citizen of the Philippines, had been taken advantage of by Toronto-based Winlorfey Caregiver Providers. Rivera paid $2,800 to Winlorfey after the company promised to set her up with a job as a live-in caregiver in Toronto. However, Rivera wasn’t able to reach the employer with the phone number Winlorfey gave her and, once she arrived in Toronto, the owner of Winlorfey, Winston James, told her the employer wasn’t ready to hire her. James suggested other jobs that would require her to work illegally or for below minimum wage.

The court awarded Rivera the maximum award of $10,000, which may be the first case of a nanny successfully suing an agency for its shady recruiting practices. Now, the Ontario government has introduced a bill that will help protect immigrants coming here to work as nannies. If the Ontario law, which prohibits agencies from charging recruitment and placement fees, is passed as expected, foreign workers, at least the large segment in the caregiving sector, will have more protection of their rights.

While foreign workers are getting more protection through legislation and the courts, will employers recruiting and hiring them benefit from these types of changes or will it make things more difficult for them?

Employers who work on the up-and-up will benefit from a level playing field and fair competition for good workers and society as whole will be better off with more obstacles in the way of those who would exploit and marginalize newcomers to Canada. Contented workers who are treated well do a better job and contribute more to the economy than exploited ones, not to mention our moral obligation of protecting human rights.

Jeffrey R. Smith is the editor of Canadian Employment Law Today, a biweekly newsletter that looks at employment law from a business perspective. For more information, visit www.employmentlawtoday.com.

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