International Labour Trafficking
Foreign workers contribute to the economy in Canada. However, workers from other countries may be vulnerable to human trafficking for labour exploitation. Concerns about the vulnerability of temporary foreign workers, live-in caregivers, nannies, seasonal agricultural workers, domestic workers and others with less than permanent status in Canada are growing in Canada. “Temporary foreign workers appear to be at increased risk due to isolation, inability to speak the language and lack of knowledge of their rights in Canada that can be taken advantage of by human traffickers.”
(B.C. Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking (PDF)).
The requirement for temporary foreign workers to work for only one named employer as a condition of their work permit has sometimes been abused by unscrupulous employers resulting in instances of human trafficking for labour exploitation in Canada. These employers and traffickers often use coercion, threats and violence to force vulnerable workers to work very long hours, at little or no pay, often in unsafe working conditions. With little understanding of the laws in Canada, temporary foreign workers in these situations often feel trapped, with nowhere to turn for assistance.
Traffickers use threats of deportation and seize passports and other identity documents to gain and keep control of these workers. Most temporary foreign workers may not be aware of laws prohibiting human trafficking in Canada, nor are they aware of other services, supports, rights and entitlements they have, such as filing a claim for unpaid wages.
The RCMP has identified “significant human trafficking indicators” in several cases involving foreign national domestic workers who were smuggled into Canada by their employers. “These live-in domestic workers were controlled, threatened, underpaid, and forced to work by their employers” (Canada Human Trafficking Threat Assessment Report).
In British Columbia, a man named Franco Orr was convicted of human trafficking for deceiving a Filipino nanny who was recruited from Hong King to work with a family in Canada. The nanny, Ms. Leticia Sarmiento, believed she had a valid Canadian work permit, was promised Sundays off, statutory holidays and 7 days of paid leave per year as well as reasonable work hours and control over her passport. In reality, the nanny was required to look after three children under the age of 6 and do all the housework. She had no days off. She worked from 7 am to 11 pm. She was not permitted to leave the house unless in the company of her employers and when she was outside of the home, she was not permitted to talk to anyone. Her passport was held by her employers.
In reality, Ms. Sarmiento was brought to Canada as a temporary visitor, not someone entitled to work in Canada. When her temporary visitor visa expired, she was illegal in Canada which the employers used to further control her, threatening her with jail if Canadian authorities discovered her whereabouts. The employers also falsely promised to assist her in obtaining landed immigrant status in Canada so that she could bring her family to live with her from the Philippines.
In the following video, Professor Benjamin Perrin discusses the issue of labour trafficking in Canada.
B.C.’s OCTIP is aware of cases of human trafficking for the purpose of forced labour, including one where a number of male cooks were recruited from their home countries as temporary foreign workers. The men were required to pay large fees to their traffickers for legal costs and travel, were forced to work up to 72 hours per week and on statutory holidays, were threatened if they complained and were not allowed to make phone calls home. Some were confined to a house and several had their immigration documents taken away.
In 2009, several women from the Philippines were brought into Canada under a false promise to work as nannies. On arrival at the Vancouver airport, the nannies were forced to pay $4,000 to the family as an “entrance fee” to Canada. The man who met them said they would be reported to the authorities and sent back to their home country if they refused, and took away their passports. The women then discovered that they would be working in the family’s daycare business instead of as nannies, and were also forced to clean houses while receiving little or no pay for any of their work.
Migrant Workers in Canada
For more information about labour trafficking in Canada, please refer to the following publication on migrant labour and human trafficking (PDF) by the Canadian Council for Refugees.
For more information, see the federal government’s Temporary Foreign Worker program.
Copyright © 2014 Province of British Columbia.