The Temporary Foreign Worker program allows for Canadian employers to hire outside of the country when they need employees. Sounds simple enough. In the past couple of years, Lac La Biche has experienced an exponential influx of TFW's, primarily Filipino who are hired primarily in the service industry (hotels, supermarkets, nannies, etc). This is not isolated to Lac La Biche. The hiring of TFW's, a large contingent being Filipino, is province wide.
This trend has stirred up mixed feelings from Albertans. Some accuse the workers themselves of taking jobs away from Canadian citizens (these people I find somewhat amusing because the jobs they claim are being taken are jobs which the complaining parties would never take for themselves). Others are simply confused as to what is going on, especially in rural centers such as Lac La Biche where everyone seems to know everyone… or at least they did.
Let me be abundantly clear: The TFW program has great potential. According the policies and procedures of the Canadian government, ALL employees including TFW's are entitled to workers' rights. See: http://www.alberta-canada.com/immigration/working/temporaryforeignworkers.html
But according to the Edmonton Sun, TFW's are trafficked and abused more often than is reported, if it is reported at all. See: http://www.edmontonsun.com/news/columnists/andrew_hanon/2010/06/03/14253656.html
Employers pay too little, offer substandard housing, force long hours… sounding scary? Slavery? In Canada? In Alberta?! People start stiffening their backs at this point. We're all good people, right? No one in Alberta would stoop so low.
Of course they would.
We're human beings too, and Albertans are prone to greed and abuse just like the rest of humanity. But understand too that not all employers using the TFW program are abusive or use slavery methods.
This is NOT a witch hunt. Not all TFW's are enslaved or mistreated. And not every Filipino you meet is a TFW. Dealing with such a prickly issue so close to home sometimes causes those knee-jerk reactions we all regret later.
This is Dennis Billones who, according to Edmonton Sun, "paid a recruiter for a job that didn't even exist". He was trying to support nieces and nephews in the Philippines when he discovered he'd been exploited. But before being able to return home, he died in Edmonton of colon cancer in 2008 without even seeing the job he was promised or seeing his family again.
Labour trafficking is happening right here, right now. It is up to us to know the signs, hold our businesses accountable, and also to embrace new cultures and workers as equals. Economic times are certainly difficult, but unlike uninformed people would have you believe, TFW's are not the reason so many people are out of work.
To sum up:
1. TFW's have the same rights in Alberta as every other employee
2. Not every TFW has been trafficked.
3. Not every employer abused and trafficks TFW's.
4. That being said, it IS happening and we as citizens must hold our own employers and companies accountable for their actions.
5. Support and compassion must be given identified victims.
I don't know about you, but it certainly has been a pleasure meeting the new faces in town. I knew many Filipino workers while I lived in Calgary and was even treated to some homemade Filipino food. Wow! Some of the best cuisine on the planet.