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Rights at Work – Complaints and Assistance
The Migrant Workers Office (MWO) in Vancouver is tasked to ensure that all Filipino temporary workers being hired to work in Canada are covered by an employment contract whose terms and conditions are compliant with employment standards and laws of both Canada and the Philippines.
As a legal document, the employment contract spells out the rights, duties and responsibilities of both the employer and the worker. Essentially, workers have the right to receive a pay not lower than the approved minimum wage, agreed number of working hours, payment of overtime pay, leave entitlements, valid cause of termination, and others. In addition, as part of Philippine requirements, the employer must shoulder the cost of transportation from his place of origin, especially for low wage position as well as those in the agricultural sector. MWO shall likewise see to it that the employment contract provides for the employer’s obligation to repatriate the worker in case of death during the period of the employment contract.
The employment contract may not however be specific on certain rights accorded by law. This does not mean however that they cannot assert these rights. Thus, workers have the right to be treated fairly at work, to have a safe workplace, to have access to health services, and to report violations of his employment rights to the government authorities. Any diminution of such rights and benefits, including unfair practices and discrimination, is considered illegal.
Rights of Temporary Foreign Workers
Foreign workers who come to Canada on a work permit and who have not yet obtained permanent resident status must be aware of their rights at work. Under Canada’s Temporary Foreign Workers Program, it is not allowed for the employer to take possession of the worker’s passport and other official documents. The worker must know that he should keep a copy of his employment contract as well as work permit, and to demand for a copy from his employer if he was not given one.
A Filipino TFW should likewise know that regardless of his work position or immigration status as a foreign worker, his rights are protected by Canadian laws, whether federal or provincial. Thus, his employer cannot treat him unfairly or subject him to forced labor or exploitation. His employer cannot threaten him with deportation and he has every right to report such prohibited actions to the authorities. His employer is prohibited from retaliating or taking action against him by reason of his reporting of such complaints and violations.
Right to Safe and Healthy Workplace
A worker cannot be forced by his employer to work if he is sick or for such number of hours in excess of his agreed working hours without his consent. He cannot also be forced to work in an unsafe or dangerous job. In such a situation, the employer must first give necessary training, provide safety equipment and make sure that the danger or risk is removed.
It is important that the employer must assume responsibility for the medical and health coverage of the TFW until he becomes eligible to the provincial health care program. In the case of agricultural worker, the employer must see to it that the worker’s accommodation is suitable and affordable.
Right against Unfair Practices and Discrimination
The employment laws in Canada provide tough measures against unfair labor practices and discrimination at work. For one, the employer cannot deduct from the employee’s wages any amount not otherwise allowed by law. Thus, it is illegal for the employer to deduct the costs of breakage, damages, theft, among others against the worker’s pay without a court order. The employer cannot likewise discriminate against the employees by paying them differently for performing similar work except for justifiable grounds such as seniority, merit system, and the like. Discrimination at work is also not allowed by reason of gender, sex, race, ethnic origin or religion.
Right against Fraudulent Hiring and Human Trafficking Violations
A number of foreign workers hired under the TFWP had reportedly been exploited in the past by their employers, foreign recruiters and/or immigration consultants. The abuse and exploitation come in various schemes but can be described in most cases as recruitment which involves illegal charging of exorbitant amount of money.
Filipino workers directly hired from countries outside the Philippines, such as, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Middle East countries, and others, have been solicited a substantial amount of money allegedly representing the recruitment costs or fees. This practice is however prohibited under both Philippine and Canadian laws. This is also considered a violation of ethical practice of recruitment which makes it illegal to charge recruitment fees and costs from the applicant-workers as this is considered expenses which should be shouldered by the employers. Immigration consultants are also prohibited from charging for recruitment fees other than for their immigration services.
Filipino TFWs who have been recruited from third-countries (meaning, not directly from the Philippines) and were victimized by these unscrupulous recruiters are advised to report this to the competent authorities in order to recover the excessive amount paid by them and to prevent further abuse. Complaint may be filed under anonymous reporting. Filipino TFWs are however encouraged to report this matter without fear of being deported or harassed by their employers.
TOLL FREE CONTACT NUMBERS FOR ASSISTANCE
For assistance on labor-related matters, please contact the Migrant Workers Office through telephone no.: (+1) 604 641 1234 or MWO hotline (+1) 604 767 3354.
A. To report an abuse or violations of the TFW Program, please call Service Canada Confidential Tip Line at Toll Free line:1-866-602-9448. For Online Fraud Reporting at Toll Free: 1-877-952-6914 or WorkBC Contact Centre at:1-877-952-6914
To anonymously report a case for trafficking, please call: Crime Stoppers National Tip Line at: 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) Toll Free line : 1-888-242-2100
B. For Employments Standards Offices (concerns about pay, working hours, unfair treatment, illegal deductions, etc.):
British Columbia 1-800-663-3316
C. For Workplace Health and Safety Offices (injuries, sickness, compensation, etc.):
British Columbia 1-888-621-7233