Johnna, a member of the Caregivers’ Action Centre, speaks at the launch of the Metcalf Foundation’s report
on how recruitment practices exploit temporary foreign workers. Fay Faraday, the report’s author, looks on.
Alma, a live-in caregiver from the Philippines, paid $4,000 as recruitment fees to come to Canada. She also bought her airplane ticket costing more than $1,000 despite the Live-in Caregiver Program mandating that the employer should pay for it.
As the money Alma paid to the recruiter was more than three years’ earnings in the Philippines, Alma borrowed it at an exorbitant rate of interest. Given the minimum wage she earns here in Toronto, it would take at least three years to pay back the debt.
Alma should consider herself lucky. “Some others had to pay as much as $12,000 in fees,” says Johnna, a member of the Caregivers’ Action Centre, who, like Alma, did not disclose her surname for fear of repercussions.
Johnna was present at the launch of the Metcalf Foundation’s report on Profiting from the Precarious: How Recruitment Practices Exploit Migrant Workers on April 8, 2014 to talk of the travails of live-in caregivers like her with fellow panellists from the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.
In 2012, there were more than 338,000 temporary foreign workers living in Canada. Their numbers more than doubled from 2006 to 2012, and they now equal the population of Greater Victoria in B.C. In Toronto alone, the number skyrocketed by 237% in the same period, from 27,083 to 64,284. To feed this demand, an industry of recruiters has emerged to match workers with jobs.
“Recruitment is where it all starts. It is the point ripe for exploitation and least examined,” says Fay Faraday, the Metcalf report’s author. “And abuse continues to resonate throughout a worker’s labour migration cycle.”
The report draws on in-depth interviews with workers in the Greater Toronto Area and southern Ontario, and community organizers in Canada and abroad.
Proactive regulations needed
After analysing the existing legal model to protect workers against recruitment abuse when they arrive here in Canada, Faraday is of the opinion that Ontario’s complaint-based laws fail to provide effective protection or enforce their rights.
As the Ontario government has recently introduced two bills, one that addresses worker recruitment and the other for protecting low-wage temporary foreign workers, there is both urgency and opportunity to examine legal models that could provide effective, meaningful and accessible safeguards.
Faraday hopes her findings along with recommendations can help close the vast and disturbing gap between the current law’s promise of protection and the reality of ongoing exploitation.
Both internationally and within Canada, models for regulating recruitment of temporary foreign workers have been moving away from individual complaint-driven laws like Ontario’s.
“The Ontario model is out of step with the best practices in Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan. It is failing to get any meaningful protection for the low-wage migrant population,” says Faraday. “It is crucial for the province to move beyond shop-worn phrases that blame ‘unscrupulous recruiters’ and ‘exorbitant fees’ and address these systemic issues now.”
She says Ontario must move towards regulatory regimes like the other provinces that include licensing of recruiters, mandatory registration of employers who hire temporary foreign workers, financial security deposits to compensate workers who have been charged illegal fees and proactive investigation, audits and enforcement by labour protection officials.
- Globe Debate: Temporary immigrants mean temporary loyalties
- Maytree Conversations: Temporary foreign workers are a concern for all Canadians
- Maytree report: Shaping the Future: Canada’s rapidly changing immigration policies
- Temporary Foreign Workers backgrounder (Feb 2013) (PDF)
- Globe and Mail editorial: Temporary foreign workers: The rising risk of a guest worker class
- Toronto Star article: Temporary foreign worker program under review