Unpaid wages, denied sick leave, racist remarks. Migrant care workers deplore their “miserable and abusive” conditions and demand immediate changes from governments.
Posted at 11:51 a.m.
During a press conference on Sunday morning, François* denounced “the nightmare” he experienced while working at Villa mon domaine, a private residence for seniors in Lévis. “We experienced a lot of harassment. We were threatened with deportation,” he said. Their bosses always reminded them of their poverty. “They taught us how to use the toilet. We were considered subhuman. »
Before he officially received his work permit, the man, who worked full time, was paid only $100 biweekly. And this for 10 months. “We had no money to send to our family and we had no health insurance if we were injured,” he said.
He was lodged in a house with many other immigrant workers.
I practically slept in a wardrobe with bunk beds. If we wanted a full room, we had to pay $700 a month.
François, a beneficiary attendant
He is not alone. About twenty employees across the province testified to the center for immigrant workers about several frequent problems in the workplace, including in particular unpaid wages, sick leave refused by the employer, undeclared work accidents, not to mention racist remarks and threats of deportation.
“I was super stressed”
“We have noticed that these situations come up from time to time. These are not isolated cases. If it happens so often, it means there is [un système] who made it possible,” said Raphaël Laflamme, community organizer at the Immigrant Workers Center.
From the start of the pandemic, several attendants were recruited through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). This is the case of Audrey*, beneficiary attendant in the Outaouais region. When she arrived at her post, she noticed the deplorable working conditions. “I was super stressed,” she said. But she could not change jobs, since she had received a “closed” work permit associating her with a single employer.
After 10 months of procedures and the help of the center for immigrant workers, she was finally able to obtain an open work permit, allowing her to find another job. “We came to lend a hand to the Canadian government which is in need of labor and we deserve better working conditions and better wages,” she said.
Stakeholders call for a reform of the TFWP and the abolition of the “closed” work permit. They also deplore the complex administrative process of the Commission for Standards, Equity, Health and Safety at Work (CNESST), which often discourages workers from pursuing their complaints.
“A form of semi-slavery”
“I have never seen situations that violate human rights in this way,” said Louise Boivin, a professor at the Université du Québec à Outaouais, who is currently completing research on the work and collective action of employees in the private sector. The cases of temporary foreign worker program staff in private seniors’ residences reveal serious human rights violations akin to a form of semi-slavery. »
The story of two participants she recruited completely overwhelmed her. These workers had to be available almost all the time, while their workload was “beyond the capacity of a human being”, she said. “I’ve also seen people getting hurt and being forced to go to work and being prevented from going to see a doctor. »
” And [François Legault] doubted that systemic racism existed, here is proof, added Ramatoulaye Diallo, treasurer at the Central Council of Metropolitan Montreal-CSN, emotional. It is a system that has been established in the government. »
“The Ukrainian crisis has ignited a surge of solidarity in Quebec. Let’s not make the mistake of seeing this solidarity being limited to a single people or a single crisis. Our humanity is at stake. Whether it’s whites or blacks, let’s treat them equally,” she added.
The member for the riding of Laurier-Dorion for Québec solidaire, Andrés Fontecilla, said he was “scandalized” by the stories of the workers. “We heard very harsh words, unpaid people, systemic racism. We must reform the temporary worker program,” he said on the sidelines of the press conference.
* The names of the workers have been changed, in order to protect their identity.