Some workers report experiencing financial, physical, psychological, sexual abuse
Temporary foreign workers (TFWs) in British Columbia have experienced many types of abuse perpetrated by employers and their agents, according to a report from the Migrant Workers Centre (MWC).
Looking in 30 applications for the Open Work Permit for Vulnerable Workers (“VWOWP”), MWC found that many workers experience financial, psychological, physical and sexual abuse.
Forms of financial abuse workers went through include:
- excessive work hours (53.3 per cent)
- unpaid wages (46.7 per cent)
- payment of a recruitment fee (36.7 per cent)
- forced to work in contravention of work permit condition (26.7 per cent)
- wrongful or early termination (16.7 per cent)
- forced to repay a portion of wages to their employer (16.7 per cent)
Forms of psychological abuse include:
- verbal abuse (50 per cent)
- threats of termination and deportation (23.3 per cent)
- coercion and/or pressure to get the applicant to do something against their will (16.7 per cent)
- employer restricted the worker’s movement and activities after wo (16.7 per cent)
- retaliation by employer or threats of not being hired back after submitting complaints against the employer (10 per cent)
- employer required the worker to live with them but did not provide a private and safe living space (10 per cent)
- intimidation by employer upon termination (10 per cent)
Workers also went through different forms of physical and sexual abuse, including:
- physical violence by the employer (16.7 pe cent)
- exposure to chemical pesticides without personal protection equipment (6.7 per cent)
- forced to perform physically-demanding work while injured in contravention of medical advice (6.7 per cent)
- forced or coerced to perform sexual acts (6.7 per cent)
- repeated sexual assault by the employer (3.3 per cent)
- forced to send pictures of a sexual nature by text message to employer (3.3 per cent)
During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, some 25 per cent of the total death count because of the virus were attributed to migrants, according to a previous report. Also, migrant farmworkers who come to Ontario from other countries are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and other diseases. This is due to their communal living and working conditions, according to a previous report.
But B.C.’s TFWs’ struggles do not end there. Despite the purpose of the program to assist workers escaping abuse and exploitative circumstances, applicants have also faced enforcement action as a consequence of submitting a VWOWP application, MWC said in the report.
“The potential for enforcement action creates a disincentive for workers to seek help in a situation of abuse. The applications analyzed showed troubling examples of workers who have come forward to disclose abuse or non-compliance by employers and/or immigration consultants only to have that information used against them in enforcement proceedings which could and has resulted in a removal order being made against the worker,” MWC said.
In December 2021, the federal government announced it is looking to further improve safety measures for temporary foreign workers in the agricultural sector. The statement came after an Auditor General report noted that inspections at living spaces and workplaces conducted by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) have been problematic. In particular, 88 per cent of quarantine inspections in late 2020 were deemed "problematic", up from 73 per cent the previous year.
MWC also shared some recommendations for the government to help improve migrant workers’ access to justice, including:
- Recognize the power imbalance between workers and employers and their agents.
- Assign specialized officers and provide training on concepts and evidence of abuse.
- Allow counsel to attend interviews.
- Ensure a trauma-informed approach at interviews.
- Introduce requirements for greater transparency in officers’ written reasons for their decisions.
- Develop a review process outside of the Federal Court.
- Follow-up with employers who have been found to have abused a worker.
- Follow-up with immigration consultants who have been found to have participated in the abuse of a worker.