At the end of May, Immigration Canada announced that migrant-workers with employer-specific work permits would be allowed to apply for an open work permit to escape an abusive situation.
“Every worker in Canada is entitled to a safe and healthy work environment where their rights are respected,” the news release said. “Some migrant workers with employer-specific work permits end up enduring mistreatment, fearful of workplace punishment, as well as fear of losing their job.”
|Michelle Bowlen, a lawyer a Selkirk Law, will work for free with people applying for an open work permit in order to get away from workplace abuse. (Submitted)|
Michelle Bowlen, a lawyer in Revelstoke, is offering free assistance to workers attempting to take advantage of the program.
What people really need to understand, Bowlen said, is that abuse isn’t necessarily just physical or verbal. The law in B.C. sets standards for payment, compensation and working conditions that are required of employers. If they are breaking any of these rules, it is considered an abusive situation.
“[The program] is a step in the right direction for people who are here on work permits and are in bad situations,” Bowlen said.
Though employers in Revelstoke are not currently allowed to bring in temporary foreign workers to work minimum wage jobs, Bowlen said that there are still workers brought into management positions. Adding that abusive situations “happen more than people think.”
And then there are the workers in town who are working under the table. Bowlen said she has heard stories about people working for a season, without being paid, because an employer promised to get Labour Market Impact Assessment paperwork filed. When it came time to submit the application, the employer demanded that the employee pay for the process.
“It’s actually illegal under that program to charge the workers for any portion of that program,” Bowlen said.
Unfortunately, it is these situations that Bowlin hears about most often and there is nothing she, or the employee can do.
It’s hard for everyone, Bowlen said. Employers can’t bring in workers to fill positions and they get desperate and hire people under the table and there are people desperate for work and willing to get paid without a proper permit.
“That is the problem with the system,” Bowlen said.
At the same time, the workplace abuse program Immigration Canada announced that newcomers experiencing family violence will also be able to apply for temporary resident permit that will give them legal immigration status in Canada, which includes a work permit and health-care coverage.
“Nobody should have to stay in an abusive situation,” the news release read. “Some individuals fear jeopardizing their immigration status more than an abusive spouse or partner.”
Bowlen also works with local families utilizing this program.
To file a complaint about an employer in B.C. go to esb-complaintsubmittion.labour.gov.bc.ca/declaration.aspx
If you are a temporary foreign worker and wish to file a complaint go to canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/services/foreign-workers/fraud/report-online-fraud.html