It is illegal to charge a worker a fee for work in B.C.
We understand that and yet we know this exchange of money happens. Yes, it is illegal but that has not stopped recruiters from charging fees for migrant workers to work in Canada. Recruitment fees are not legal, and recruiters and employers break the law when they do so. Rising Up Against Unjust Recruitment, a new coalition, is calling on the Labour MinisterShirley Bond to STOP this.
In an open letter to Minister Shirley Bond delivered by courier last Friday, April 6, more than 30 groups and organizations, from unions, lawyers, academic community, grassroots organizations, service providers, faith-based groups, migrant advocates, signed on to strongly demand that the BC government take firm action and stop the abuse of TFWs from recruiters and employers who exact thousands of dollars in illegal recruitment fees from these workers.
We know this exaction of recruitment fees happens, even in our Filipino community. It comes in various forms with different payment plans; the combination of this debt burden, long before these workers leave for their jobs abroad, the low wages they receive in their host countries, their tied work permits to a single employer and their precarious temporary status makes migrant workers vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
How much are we talking about here? Typical fees range from $5,000 to $12,000 for jobs and desperation will push workers to borrow to pay these fees, with high interest of course. “Kapit patalim” provides the graphic image of workers gripping the sharp blade of a knife.
We know that there are cases where workers pay fees for promised jobs and contracts only to arrive in Canada and find out there are no jobs exist. This is referred to as “release upon arrival.” Other workers find their jobs are not what is written in their work permits or that the conditions of their work do not match what are on the contract. Recruitment fees and violations of work contracts were two issues that featured in the class action suit filed by the Filipino TFWs against their employer, Denny’s Restaurants.
Oversight is not enough and law enforcement in this situation has no teeth. This is the reason why unjust recruitment continues to happen. Can workers get the fees they paid back? Almost impossible if the fees were paid to a partner recruiter outside of Canada because the long arm of the law does not stretch that far. If recruiters are BC based, the worker complainant would have to make sure that they complain within the six-month limitation period set by the Employment Standards Branch.
In the open letter, the Rising Up Coalition wrote “… we strongly urge the provincial government to enact legislation and policy to ensure that the Employment Standards Branch is mandated to proactively investigate, enforce and penalize offending recruiters and employers. In doing so, BC would be aligning itself with six other provinces which have recognized the need to protect vulnerable TFWs through legislation.”
If there is political will and if there is genuine concern for the rights of migrant workers, BC should be working to be in line with the six Canadian provinces that have implemented better legislation to protect migrant workers, including enforcment regulation of employment agents and recruiters and of proactive enforcement. After Alberta, BC is the second destination for TFWs in their thousands, and yet , BC has been overtaken by the other provinces — Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba, and Alberta — in giving migrant workers their due.
To read the open letter in full, visit the website of the Rising Up coalition at http://www.risingup.ca
To add your name to the petition, visit the site as well. Rather than helplessly accepting that recruitment fees are here to stay ( “talagang ganiyan kasi” ) , we can actually start to rise up, question, and demand that things change. Rise up and sign the petition to end unjust recruitment and protect migrant workers.
Tinig Migrante by E. Maestro