In Brad Wall's 'Saskatchewan' ... Workers Are Secondary To The Needs Of His Corporate Pals ....
REGINA -- The Saskatchewan Federation of Labour is raising concerns about the treatment of temporary foreign workers after three Mexican men say their experience has soured their view of Canada.
Ivan Estrada came to the Regina area in late February with dreams of providing for his wife and two children - soon to be three - back in Mexico.
"It was a nightmare actually," said Estrada, brought here under the federal Temporary Foreign Worker Program to work in the food industry. Two months after his arrival, he's further in debt back home and without a job here after quitting in frustration over a wage dispute. "I can't even afford a haircut," he said Tuesday.
At a time when this province has been courting foreign workers, Advanced Education, Employment and Immigration Minister Rob Norris said, "We take this very seriously." Although the men entered the country under a federal program, "obviously we're concerned whenever there are these kind of allegations," he said, adding the government wants newcomers to feel welcome.
The Labour Standards Branch launched an investigation on Friday after receiving a formal complaint from one worker. In addition, the immigration branch's program integrity unit has "swung into action" and will contact the employees, Norris said Tuesday. He added that there hasn't been a lot of "troublesome situations," but the integrity unit can facilitate investigations and help ensure the well-being of newcomers.
Estrada and two co-workers, Guillermo Uscanga and Erik Rivas, came to Saskatchewan to work at a Tim Hortons in Emerald Park. Their employer Aaron Buckingham declined to comment when contacted about the allegations raised by the SFL and in a letter, posted to the SFL's website and authored by Mary Strymecki, an advocate for the men. The allegations concern pay, work conditions and accommodations arranged by their employer.
The workers - originally six then four when two left - were each paying $500 to share a basement area that didn't have a separate entrance and had only a microwave and bar fridge but no stove on which to cook.
A statement issued late Tuesday by Tim Hortons head office said Buckingham "acted in good faith" and "went above and beyond what was required of him and found spacious and affordable accommodations for six temporary foreign workers in order to help them reduce their living expenses. The owner also loaned his employees funds to cover their first month's rent and their damage deposit. All employees were paid holiday pay and any errors have been rectified."
SFL president Larry Hubich offered the three workers an apology when he met them Tuesday. "I was embarrassed that Canada and Saskatchewan would allow this kind of situation to occur," he said, adding the SFL is urging the provincial government to ensure all workers' rights are respected and protected.
Estrada said the main reason he came was the promise of plenty of overtime so he could "give a better future to my family." Between fewer hours than expected, high rent, a damage deposit taken off his cheque, and getting by on microwaveable food, he was further behind, making only $50 more than he was in Mexico working in a bar. The last straw was a dispute over his pay on a statutory holiday so he quit.
Strymecki has taken Estrada and another worker into her home and become their advocate, contacting the SFL, federal and provincial governments, and politicians. She and her husband operate a construction company and got to know the men through Mexican workers - "like our family" - employed by their company.
"My husband and I just put ourselves in their shoes and thought, 'This is just atrocious' ... We just kept telling them, 'This is not Saskatchewan.'"
The men can work only for the employer who brought them to Canada. But Strymecki, who has been seeking additional employees, is trying to find a way to give them jobs. Estrada said the one positive has been Strymecki's help.
Thanks to Global Regina for video link ...