The number of foreign workers in Canada has nearly tripled since 2000 to 338 213 in 2012. This however has meant that there is a boom for recruiters and they are now able to exploit many foreign workers.
Recruiters have been said to have charged up to $12 000 for jobs that do not even exist. Upon arrival of foreign workers, their passports are seized. Live-in caregivers are theoretically protected against these practices by Ontario Law but migrant workers are not protected. Jobs in the “lower skill” industry such as agriculture, food processing and cleaning are targets.
“There’s a huge problem,” says Fay Faraday, who is a human rights lawyer and a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University. “We have this law in Ontario that prohibits recruitment fees. It applies only to live-in caregivers, but the law isn’t working for caregivers and it provides absolutely no protection for other migrant workers, even though they are subject to the exact same predatory practices.” The only migrant workers that are protected from recruitment fees from under the 2009 Ontario Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act are caregivers like nannies and workers who care for the elderly and disabled.
Some recruiters are charging from $3 500 to $12 000 in illegal fees. If these recruiters are caught they can be fined up to $50 000 or jailed for year. A company can be fined $100 000 for the first offence. Ontario has been lax in enforcing this Act. Ms. Faraday acquired documents through the Freedom of Information request, which showed that since 2010 a, “mere $12 000 in illegal fees has been recovered from recruiters (in Ontario) and only eight investigations are ongoing,” she said.
Many caregivers who rack up debt to pay these fees will arrive in Canada only to be told that the job does not exist or it is for an entirely different position. This scenario has been nicknamed the “release on arrival”, it also plays out for workers in agricultural and lower-skilled jobs. If they do anything inconsistent with their work permit, they could lose their legal status and face deportation. Temporary migrant workers in agriculture and other low-wage professions are paying recruitment fees between $4 000 and $10 000 and even amounts up to $15 000.
“This situation has existed for a while,” said Dory Jade, president of the Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Consultants. “Under the immigration law, it is clear that a foreign national can be charged a fee for his or her immigration services, not to be confused with what is illegal, which is the securing of a job offer, this one is absolutely illegal.”
The Ontario Ministry of Labour said in an email they are “committed to making sure all workers in Ontario are protected on the job and are treated fairly” and that Bill 146, which was introduced by the government last year seeks to extend “protections to a broader class of temporary foreign workers in Ontario.”
Ms. Faraday recommends that Ontario should look to Manitoba as an example of how to regulate recruiters and clean up the migrant worker channel. Employees hiring migrant workers must register with the provincial employment standards branch and provide details about each worker. Recruiters must also register and put up a $10 000 non-refundable deposit in case there is a breach of provincial law. Regular audits and targeted sweeps of workplaces will be conducted.
Ontario does not collect this type of data and so the province cannot “enforce the law proactively because they don’t know where the migrant workers are,” she said. “These are practices that are core to how some recruiters have chosen to conduct their business. This is a systemic problem, it’s not just a few bad apples.”
If you would like to know more about your rights as a foreign worker in Canada, please follow this link.