Migrant worker group calls for end to discrimination

Dave Stewart
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Honeylyn Gubalane, left, wants to see changes in Canada’s temporary foreign worker program that include putting an end to tying their work permits directly to their employers. Gubalane arrived in Charlottetown nine years ago as a migrant worker and is now a permanent resident. Josie Baker of the Cooper Institute organized a press conference in Charlottetown on Wednesday where a newly formed national coalition (each province has a branch) is lobbying the federal government for change.

A woman who came to P.E.I. as a migrant worker nine years ago says it’s time to stop the practice of tying temporary foreign workers to their employers.

Honeylyn Gubalane is a permanent Canadian citizen now.


But she originally landed in Charlottetown from the Philippines as a live-in caregiver, an aspect of the temporary foreign worker program which is designed to bring women from primarily Asian countries to Canada to work as live-in nannies for children or caregivers for elders or adults with disabilities.

As the name implies, women employed under the program are required to live in their employers’ homes.

Gubalane said she was paid minimum wage, with an amount deducted from her pay to cover rent, food, phone and Internet use at the employer’s discretion.

“I had to live with a family 24-7. There are days when it was OK. You are living in someone’s home,’’ Gubalane said.

“It would be eight hours and you’re off but you’re not really off because you live there. If people need some assistance during the evening or at night you can’t really say no and not be available.’’

On Wednesday, Gubalane attended a press conference in Charlottetown where a national migrant worker coalition called on the new Liberal government to move to a single tier immigration system based on permanency and family reunification as a way to ensure decent work for all.

While the coalition is national, the press conference in Charlottetown featured representatives from local organizations. There were five other press conferences  held across the country in support of the national initiative.

The coalition also wants to see Canada move from work permits that tie them to their employer to open work permits and the four-year limit on workers’ ability to stay lifted.

“You are here in a foreign country and you’re at the mercy of your employer. It feels kind of hard.’’

Gubalane eventually became a citizen. She’s taking the nursing program at UPEI and working at a nursing home.

The local coalition includes representatives with the Cooper Institute, the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW), P.E.I. Food Security Network, Council of Canadians and Women’s Network P.E.I.

According to the Cooper Institute, there were close to 1,000 migrant workers in P.E.I. last year.

Josie Baker of the Cooper Institute said it is possible for migrant workers to change employers it is a difficult process and costly.

“When you have policies that, in essence, hold part of the workforce as captive to one employer it opens the door for abuse, lower salaries and degraded work conditions,’’ Baker said.

Sara Roach-Lewis of Women’s Network P.E.I. spoke about her family’s relationship with migrant workers.

“They would have made such wonderful long-term additions to our community as hard-working, positive, creative and loving people,’’ said an emotional Roach-Lewis. “Despite our efforts, they couldn’t immigrate to Canada.’’

The Guardian spoke to two companies that employ migrant workers in P.E.I., neither of which wanted to be quoted for this story.

However, both stressed they turned to the program due to an ongoing labour shortage, follow strict federal rules and regulations and go out of their way to treat all employees with dignity and respect.



Organizations: Cooper Institute, United Food, Commercial Workers union UFCW

Geographic location: Canada, Charlottetown, Philippines

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Recent comments

  • Bonnie O'Neill
    November 02, 2015 - 09:53

    There are proper ways to become a legal immigrant. I believe the TFW program supercedes that.When you come to Canada with a permanent full time job for the length of your visa, you should expect nothing less. It's backdoor immigration, I disagree with that.. A true immigrant arrives here without that option and usually struggles to find a job, housing etc. The TFW program allows an unfair advantage. It is also unfair to Canadians as they have full time jobs at employers where Canadians do not. Something wrong with this picture.

  • Islanders Were TFWs
    October 29, 2015 - 12:19

    Now that Alberta has crashed and burnt, they are all ran back to PEI for EI.

  • sasha
    October 29, 2015 - 08:49

    Entire program is unfair, both to TFW and to Canadians. Foreign workers should be awarded the same rights and protections as local people and should have clear path to citizenship once their "probation" period is over. There is no downside to them coming and starting a new life here if they are able and willing to work as long as employers have to pay them the same wages and deductions as they would have to pay for Canadian workers. They should be invested. the same way as anyone local is, into making this better place for themselves and their families.

    • Dave
      October 29, 2015 - 12:14

      While it is true everyone pays taxes, not everyone actually pays their own way. Low wage earners don't pay their way. We need to bring in immigrants who increase our tax base, not low paid immigrants who don't pay their way. This does not help the economy.

    • Quiet Observer
      October 29, 2015 - 12:53

      The program is totally fair. You know what the rules are before you sign up. If you don't want to come to Canada under those rules, then don't sign up for the program. There are other means to come to Canada whereby those rules do not apply to you. Those complaining about the TFW rules are those who want to shortcut or bypass the regular LEGAL route that other immigrants follow. Don't like the rules? Don't sign up.

  • Can't get a job
    October 29, 2015 - 08:14

    We need immigration, not Temporary Workers who undercut our wages and rights, and place us on the unemployed list. I don't recall in the past ten years where the unemployment rate has improved, so we all know that the term "Labour Shortage" is nonsense. Employers use term Canadians don't want to work, when in realty the issue is, is that they don't want to pay us to do so. Over 26 billion dollars a year leave this country a year due to this program, and it's been getting harder and harder each year for me to find work. This is very discouraging because I know there's thousands of temporary workers in Canada now, doing what I do, when myself and many others like me are struggling. Again, the rich who don't want to pay their workers adequately are getting even richer, and the middle class is dying. Evidently, it's really simple for companies to falsely prove they can't attain workers, because I've interviewed for companies both here on PEI and in the West, and I haven't been placed in these positions that I more than qualify for. These companies currently employ "Temporary workers". This program is still being abused in this country, and the Middle class population continues to dwindle. I'm curious as to whether or not Trudeau will address this issue or ignore it, as it still remains, the greatest issue affecting Canada today.

  • It's Time
    October 29, 2015 - 08:03

    While the TFW who wants to become a permanent resident is one thing...the way they are treated when they are in our country is horrible. The housing that they are given often is in a shed/warehouse whereby they all live in one room or some other such substandard accommodations whereby they live/cook/sleep in a room no larger than a rundown motel often with no hot water. Come on PEI/Canada - we can do better than that.

      October 29, 2015 - 10:25

      To make such inflammatory statements such as you have just made, need to be backed up by facts.Knowing where these TFW's are housed upwest, I can assure you that you are blowing smoke. Remember, these accommodations are meant to be temporary, not to house someone for life. In the case of the TFW pictured, she lived in a house with the host family, as most of them do. Compared to where they come from, this is paradise.

  • Liberal dong
    October 29, 2015 - 07:18

    By being a foreign worker and gaining citizenship,whats was the the use of the PNP. Program,I believe the PNP fiesco was just to fill the pockets of the rich and once famous politicians. We have too many here now the street are full of foreigners walking the street in the middle of the day,I wonder who is providing for their staying here.

      October 29, 2015 - 10:13

      Oh come on, don't be so naive. Who do you think is supporting them? The Micaram?

  • Quiet Observer
    October 29, 2015 - 07:14

    You can't have it both ways. If you want to come to Canada under the TEMPORARY Foreign Workers Program, then abide by its rules. Employers make substantial investments in bringing the workers in and guaranteeing them work. Yes, there should be a link back to them and if there is not, then what employers is going to make that investment? Why should the TFWs be allowed to take advantage of employer who invests the money to bring them here only to have them go work somewhere else? It is not discrimination and trying to play that card is pathetic. If foreign workers do not want to live by the rules of the TFW program, then they should not come to Canada under it. Go the regular route for immigration, look for a job, apply for work permit, pay your own way here, pay your own costs of getting settled, etc. That route is readily available to you.

    • Been there
      November 02, 2015 - 11:00

      Exactly right.Having used the live-in caregiver program for a number of years,I've come to the conclusion that they are only doing this because they have to to gain access to the country."Back home in the Philippines it is well known that Canada is the land of milk and honey,they are climbing over each other to get here because cleaning someones toilets here for 3 years for permanent residence is far better than working for $6 a day back home. They are already well protected by existing labour laws as they can quit there employer with two weeks notice and move on to the next one,usually looking for 1 child families so there job is easy. A lot of the nannies are wonderful people as I have met quite a few,but there are also a lot that learn very quickly to play the system.Trust me as soon as permanent residence is obtained very few remain in the system and most move on to retail and fast food jobs etc. and work tirelessly to bring family and friends over too.And so goes the cycle,more live ins come,and your kids can't find jobs. Changing these rules will only open the floodgates for them to abuse the system worse than it is now,while absolving them of the financial responsibility of coming here as they pay the agencies (thats another story)a large sum,which would be downloaded on the employer.With no financial responsibility,or nothing to hold them in the live in program,trust me a lot of them won't be staying in the program!

    October 28, 2015 - 21:02

    The TFW is a program that is meant to be just that, temporary, not a pathway to citizenship, which it is being used for. The TFW was to stay 4 years, why did she stay 9 years and now become a permanent residence.

  • Bob MacDonald
    October 28, 2015 - 20:51

    I have really mixed feelings about this whole thing. On the one hand I feel for the workers but on the other I personally know university students who have lost jobs to them. Before you say anything they didn't lose the jobs because the foreigners were better workers but because employers were able to pay the foreign workers less money. I have nothing against foreign workers but it shouldn't be possible for employers to end up paying less than minimum wage to any employee