Both Canadian workers and temporarily imported workers say Canada’s Temporary Foreign Workers program is not working. Canadians are out of work and struggling to make ends meet, while their replacements are being misled and forced to pay over-priced rent to their employer.
McDonald’s foreign workers call it ‘slavery’
By Kathy Tomlinson
CBC: April 17, 2014
Foreign workers recruited from Belize are accusing McDonald’s Canada of treating them like “slaves,” by effectively forcing them to share an expensive apartment – then deducting almost half their take-home pay as rent.
“When we arrived at the airport, they said, ‘We already have an apartment for you,’ so at that point we already know we don’t have a choice of where to live,” said Jaime Montero, who came to Edmonton with four others in September to work at McDonald’s.
“We had to live there. We were told this is what we are doing,” said another worker who didn’t want to be named because he still works for McDonald’s.
The Belizeans said their dream of making good money in Canada to send to their families quickly shattered. Instead, they pocketed less than $800 per month – which they said was barely enough to live on.
The Belizians worked at McDonald’s locations in south Edmonton and said it took them more than an hour to get to work by public transit.
“You work for us now, so we are your owners. It’s like that, you know,” said Montero. “We felt like slaves. They just brought us and threw us on the side.”
Records from three employees show they made $11 an hour working at various McDonald’s locations and the company took $280 from their pay for rent, bi-weekly. Their remaining take-home pay for the same pay periods was roughly $350.
“[The apartment lease] contracts are signed by McDonald’s. All of our bills – utility bills – were billed [to us] under the name of McDonald’s,” said Montero.
“They brought us here and they are this big huge corporation. We felt that we didn’t have a chance to even voice our opinion to them because they had brought us here so they could ship us back whenever they wanted to,” said Montero. “It was like modern day slavery.”
McDonald’s housed them in a penthouse apartment in downtown Edmonton, even though they worked on the southern outskirts of the city. The corporation signed a six-month lease, which the workers said they were expected to honour as tenants.
“It was too far from work and it was very expensive,” said Montero, who said it took him an hour and a half to get to work by public transit.
“They actually said even if we leave the apartment and go rent another apartment, that McDonald’s would still deduct the rent from our salary,” said the other worker.
Since recent Go Public reports about McDonald’s practices with foreign workers, they said the corporation required all staff to sign an agreement, stipulating they would not speak to the media.
McDonald’s fired Montero in November, after he said managers accused him of complaining online about the company and intimidating other workers, which he and the other Belizeans insisted is not true.
“It was very unfair the way they did it…this was such a blow to me,” said Montero. He was also evicted from the apartment. He still has a work permit, but hasn’t been able to find another job.
“I even slept once outside in the cold. Then I found out about homeless shelters and I stayed out at the homeless shelters,” he said.
“Instead of making money here in Canada my family have had to send money.”
The rental contracts show McDonald’s paid $2,359 per month to rent the suite in the Boardwalk building. The corporation didn’t pay utilities or other extra costs.
Five workers paying $280 bi-weekly works out to $3,030 per month. That suggests McDonald’s charged them $600 more for rent than what it paid. Go Public pointed out that discrepancy to McDonald’s, but received no explanation.
The lease expired at the end of February and the Belizeans have since found a more affordable apartment.
“It’s not easy and it’s not cheap to be here,” said Montero.
(read the full article at CBC)
McDonald’s foreign worker practices face growing investigation
By Kathy Tomlinson
CBC: April 14, 2014
The federal investigation into McDonald’s use of temporary foreign workers has widened to several other locations, as more local workers speak out about feeling sidelined and shortchanged.
“I feel it’s definitely discrimination against Canadians,” said Chris Eldridge, from Lethbridge, Alta.
Eldridge just quit his managerial job for six McDonald’s locations in Alberta, because he said he could no longer stomach denying local employees much-needed shifts to accommodate temporary foreign workers.
“Honestly, some days I wonder, is this still Canada? Everyone is supposed to have equal rights.”
Eldridge was a manager who did the worker scheduling for McDonald’s franchisee Dan Brown. He’s also upset about differences in pay. Many foreign workers started at $10.80 an hour, he said, while local employees doing the same job made less.
Federal rules stipulate that foreign workers coming in to Lethbridge as food service attendants must make at least the “prevailing wage” of $10.41. However, immigration lawyers told Go Public local employees doing the same job are not supposed to be paid less or lose hours as a result.
“I was instructed to ensure, based on the contracts the foreign workers had signed, that they would be guaranteed full-time hours, no questions asked,” said Eldridge, who said that meant he had to shortchange Canadian employees.
Eldridge said the foreign workers were recruited from Belize, the Philippines and Jamaica by Actyl Group, an international recruiter used by McDonald’s Canada. It charges employers up to $2,000 per worker it recruits.
Actyl’s job website is designed to attract foreign workers. It lists numerous ads for full-time jobs at McDonald’s.
Canadians can apply, but many of the open jobs currently on the Actyl site are not advertised on popular Canadian jobs sites like Kijiji. Linda West of Actyl said that is because those McDonald’s locations already have government approvals to hire foreign workers.
“We never give up on trying to recruit Canadians,” West said. “We have had adverts up for over a year without Canadians applying.”
Eldridge said Brown houses the foreign workers in an apartment building with six to eight employees per unit, and deducts approximately $400 a month from each worker’s pay for rent.
“It’s a big apartment complex, but everyone calls it ‘the compound.’ It’s so enclosed and overpacked in a lot of ways,” said Eldridge.
Go Public asked Brown if he is also the foreign workers’ landlord, but he didn’t answer.
Emily Bryce, who still works at one of his outlets, said she believes the foreigners are exploited because many are professionals by trade and leave their children behind for a chance to live in Canada.
“My Canada isn’t one where you force people to choose between their job and their family. They should be taking full families in and giving them citizenship,” said Bryce.
The whole [foreign worker] program is unjust and it has too many loopholes in it for franchisee owners to exploit them.”
Locals feel marginalized nationwide
Go Public received complaints from McDonald’s workers in other B.C. and Alberta locations, too, as well as Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland.
“The whole time I have worked at the local McDonald’s there has been nothing but favouritism towards the Filipinos,” said a worker in New Brunswick. “Any Canadian that works here feels that if they were to complain it would be viewed racist, but it is a serious problem.”
“I’ve seen countless [local] people turned down [for] the chance to even submit resumes, or have the chance of their resumes to be looked at, before they enter the trash,” said an employee from a B.C. location.
An insider from Edmonton wrote, “Being a former general manager for McDonald’s, I can tell you on the franchisee side of the business this is the preferred hiring method…There are numerous other franchisees in the system that will exclude hiring Canadians first.”
A former assistant manager from a McDonald’s in Parksville, B.C., who was there for 24 years, said she was effectively pushed out the door in favour of workers from the Philippines.
“All those of us who have left, you know, for sure have all felt pushed out,” said 52-year-old Christina Morrow. “It was reverse discrimination.”
Her former boss, Jamie Johannesen, owns four area franchises. Morrow said he brought in 20 foreign workers when he bought the Parksville location three years ago.
“He said they were better workers…so I would have to cut [local employee] hours to give these people 40 hours.”
Morrow said her work was criticized for the first time in two decades and her pay was cut from $18 to $11 an hour.
“It felt like a knife in my heart, she said. I’d been there 24 years…a lifetime to devote your flesh and blood to a position like that but obviously I wasn’t wanted anymore.”
She quit a year ago, because she says she couldn’t handle the pay cut.
“I would say the foreign workers were definitely favoured in almost every aspect,” said 19-year-old Brayden Chamberlain, who worked at the same McDonald’s for three years.
He quit last spring, because he said his hours had been cut so much it wasn’t worth working there anymore. He said some of the Filipinos had management roles, which made local workers feel marginalized.
“They treat you a lot differently. You’re the minority of the company and you almost end up
feeling exiled, which is why I ended up quitting,” he said. “If you are not Filipino, you have no place there.”
The owner, Johannesen, did not respond to requests for comment.
Go Public asked McDonald’s Canada for comment on this story, but the company said it needed more time to investigate.
The company said earlier it has 3,400 temporary foreign workers in its 1,400 locations and it abides by all the rules of the federal program.
NDP employment critic Jinny Sims is calling for an emergency debate in Parliament and said the government should now suspend all temporary foreign worker permits for fast-food outlets.
“I believe this is an emergency,” said Sims. “This is creating unnecessary tension and the minister cannot wash his hands of this…his government is allowing this program to be abused.”
(read the full article at CBC)
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