The B.C. Employment Standards Tribunal has ordered an Indian restaurant in Surrey, B.C., to pay $32,702 in unpaid wages and interest to a cook brought to Canada as a temporary foreign worker.
Advocates for migrant workers and independent businesses say the case points to inadequacies in Canada’s immigration system, which they say provides more advantages to high-income earners over workers from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
In its decision, the tribunal said that from November 2016 to February 2017, Brijesh Mohan worked 12-hour days six days a week at the restaurant as a Tandoori cook.
The decision says Mohan claimed the restaurant failed to pay him regular and overtime wages, statutory holiday pay and annual vacation pay.
Including interest, the restaurant has been ordered to pay Mohan $32,702 plus $3,000 in administrative fees.
The restaurant appealed the decision, claiming B.C.’s Employment Standards Branch disregarded some of the evidence it presented and was biased against the employer.
The appeal was dismissed in May.
CBC News reached out to restaurant director Shailendra Bitton, but he refused to comment on the decision, only saying: “This is a great injustice.”
Program ‘treats people as commodities’
Canada’s temporary foreign workers program is designed to allow employers to “hire foreign workers to fill temporary labour and skill shortages,” according to a federal government website.
Typically, employers have to submit a labour market impact assessment to show they cannot find a Canadian or permanent resident to do the job.
“The program is designed to allow for the exploitation of people,” said Syed Hassan, co-ordinator with the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change. “It treats people as commodities.”
Hassan says some temporary workers pay up to two years wages in fees to private recruiters to get into the Canadian work market. As a result, these workers are often reluctant to complain about their jobs for fear they may be sent home in debt.
He said Ontario has banned recruitment fees, and that Manitoba and Nova Scotia have strong laws governing them, but B.C. does not.
Further complicating matters, workers’ visas are tied directly to their employer. If they want to switch jobs, they have to find a business willing to pay up to $1,000 for a labour market impact assessment, Hassan said.
The temporary foreign worker program unfairly targets low-wage workers, he said.
“It is essential that we have a system that allows people in these industries that allows people to come to Canada permanently.”
All skill levels needed
Richard Truscott, vice president for the B.C. and Alberta chapter of the Canadian Federation for Independent Business, agreed.
He said most employers treat temporary foreign workers fairly, although he admits there are a few “bad apples” out there.
But most employers only use the temporary foreign worker program “as a last resort,” because the paperwork is onerous and expensive, Truscott said.
Most businesses would rather hire people already in Canada, he said.
“Our system has become biased against anybody coming to Canada unless you’re … some highly skilled individual,” he said.
“We need people to be immigrating to the country that can fill jobs at all skill levels, including and especially those lower-skilled jobs. That’s how the country was built.”
In a written statement, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said some pathways do exist to help temporary workers come to Canada on a permanent basis.
The ministry also said the Canadian government is reviewing the pathway to permanent residence for temporary workers who are already well-established in Canada.
“That review is ongoing and any policy changes would be announced at an appropriate time,” the ministry said.