Two Filipino workers who allege they were mistreated by the Temporary Foreign Worker Program are giving up their fight and flying home next month.
Francis Duras, 28, had appealed to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to overturn an earlier decision that found he had broken the rules and had to leave Canada. Last week, he got a response.
Rules are rules, Kenney responded. And both men, by their own admission, have broken them.
Following this decision, Reynaldo Verdeflor, 45, decided to abandon his own appeal and has volunteered to return home. They both hope to one day return to the Yukon.
“The sad reality is that there are two employers that would have them back tomorrow,” said Alex Furlong, president of the Yukon Federation of Labour.
In the meantime, the labour federation and Yukon Filipino Association plan to hold a fundraiser in early October to raise $3,000 for both men’s airfare.
The cases of Duras and Verdeflor were touted by Furlong this summer as examples of how foreign workers were being exploited. The reality proved more complicated.
Both came to Canada with temporary jobs sponsored by employers in Alberta through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. And both broke the strict rules that tie their visas to jobs with sponsoring employers, and forbids them to work elsewhere.
Verdeflor spent nine months working for Alberta Oats Milling Ltd. He says he was laid off for lack of work. So he moved to Whitehorse and took a job at the Chocolate Claim.
What follows next is in dispute. According to Verdeflor, he explained his situation to his boss, Glenys Baltimore, and asked to be sponsored under the Yukon Nominee Program.
She initially agreed, according to him, but after six weeks of work, she withheld his pay and eventually reported him to border services.
Baltimore’s account varies considerably. Verdeflor misled her, she says, by claiming he had a valid work permit. When Baltimore discovered he was working illegally, she reported him, but she maintains she paid him in full.
Duras was hired by a Canadian Tire in Calgary. When he arrived in mid-January, he says he was told the job wouldn’t start until March 1. So he moved to Whitehorse and took a job with Tim Hortons.
He also applied for the Yukon Nominee Program, but the employer dropped him when they discovered Duras was working illegally.
“The immigration act is not very forgiving for new immigrants who make a mistake,” said Furlong. “When new immigrants go to these admissibility hearings, the hearing officer has absolutely no latitude. If there was a breach of the act, no matter how it came about, they need to say you’re inadmissible.”
It’s unreasonable to expect foreign workers to understand the rules imposed by different temporary work programs, said Furlong. “You tell me how someone, English isn’t their first language, is supposed to wade through that. It’s incredible.”
And the current arrangement puts too much power in the hands of employers, said Furlong. Foreign workers are often reluctant to complain about workplace conditions for fear of being deported, he said.
Furlong stands by his allegation that foreign workers are being exploited by local employers.
“I hear the stories about them not getting paid. I hear them afraid to do something because of health and safety. I hear all this stuff,” he said.
Examples of the risky activities engaged in by ill-trained foreign workers include driving heavy equipment and mixing cleaning chemicals, said Furlong.
Last year, the labour federation provided training in workplace safety for foreign workers. But money for the program ran out in the spring.
That’s because the training program, which cost $85,000, was only a one-year pilot program, said Judy Thrower, acting assistant deputy minister of advanced education.
“The project came to an end. That was the duration of the project.”
The territory is reviewing the support it offers foreign workers in the Yukon Nominee Program, said Thrower. But she couldn’t offer specifics of what changes will come.
“We’re hoping to provide something in the future. We’re just not ready to make an announcement about what that might be.”
She notes that both Duras and Verdeflor encountered problems because they broke the conditions of a federal program, not a territorial one.
Furlong plans to release recommendations on how to improve foreign worker programs over the next two months.
“There’s a need for capitalism and there’s also a need for socialism. The balance needs to be as equal as it can be,” he said. “Right now, if you look at immigration and the nominee programs, the balance is to the employers.”
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