News / Vancouver

B.C.'s temporary foreign workers routinely pay thousands in illegal recruitment fees: advocates

Advocates are calling on the B.C. government to better enforce the law and require employers to be financially liable for unlawfully levied fees

Richard Eugenio, left, with NDP MLA Mable Elmore. Eugenio paid $15,000 to a recruiter in order to get a job in Canada, a practice that is common even though it is prohibited by B.C. law.

Jen St. Denis

Richard Eugenio, left, with NDP MLA Mable Elmore. Eugenio paid $15,000 to a recruiter in order to get a job in Canada, a practice that is common even though it is prohibited by B.C. law.

Advocates for temporary foreign workers say workers are routinely paying thousands of dollars to recruiters in order to work in Canada, even though the practice is prohibited by B.C. law.

Richard Eugenio, who is from the Philippines, paid $15,000 to a recruiter to get a trucking job in Surrey. But when he arrived, he found he was being paid for six hour days when he was actually working eight to 12 hours.

Almost one year after arriving in Canada and with time running out on his work permit, he’s now looking for another employer. But because he’s here as a temporary foreign worker, any potential employer would have to successfully demonstrate they cannot find a Canadian worker for the job.

Being charged thousands of dollars to get a job is “the standard experience for temporary foreign workers in B.C.,” said Mable Elmore, NDP MLA for Vancouver-Kensington. Sometimes workers arrive and find the job is nonexistent or not what was promised.

B.C. recruiters commonly charge temporary foreign workers between $2,000 and $10,000, according to research conducted by the Westcoast Domestic Workers Association.

It’s illegal to charge a worker for a job in B.C. But advocates say the province does not adequately enforce its own employment standards adequately, relying on a complaint-driven model where the workers must make the complaint within six months of the offense.

They’ve started a campaign called Rise Up Against Unjust Recruitment and are calling on the B.C. government to follow the model of provinces like Saskatchewan and Manitoba in requiring the recruiter and the employer they represent to be financially liable if employment standards law is broken.

“So it doesn’t matter if the recruitment starts in the Philippines and it has many spots along the way, the important part is that it ends in B.C.,” said Alexandra Rodgers, a Simon Fraser University graduate student who has studied the issue.

“In other provinces they’ll put forward a bond, $20,000 in Saskatchewan and $10,000 in Manitoba, before you can be issued a licence as a recruiter and that bond is money that can be given if fees are charged illegally,” Smith said.

The group also wants the six-month complaint window to be extended to three years, and for all employers to be required to provide a free information session to temporary foreign workers to inform them of their rights.

Communications staff for Shirley Bond, Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training, emailed this statement to Metro:

“There are very clear rules for employment agencies in our province. Employment agencies are not allowed to charge fees to anyone, regardless of their immigration status. We expect people to follow the rules and if anyone has a complaint‎ they should contact the Employment Standards Branch."

The federal government is currently reviewing the program, and a recent report suggested increasing the number of low-wage workers. That part of the program was strictly curtailed in 2014 following reports of a number of abuses.

“Typically the problems that we see when workers are more vulnerable is in the low-skilled professions,” Elmore said.

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