Employer found guilty of sexually abusing TFWs not blacklisted by Ottawa

The federal government has failed to blacklist an Ontario business fined $200,000 by the province’s Human Rights Tribunal for subjecting female temporary foreign workers to sex abuse and violence under the threat of deportation and whose owner pleaded guilty for criminal charges stemming from the same allegations, workers rights advocates point out.

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario ordered the highest damage award in its history against the the fish processing plant based in Wheatley,ON, after two sisters from Mexico, referred to as O.P.T. and M.P.T., each alleged that during the course of their employment with Presteve between August 2007 and September 2008 , the owner Jose Pratas subjected them to sexual assault.

73-year-old Pratas pleaded guilty for a lesser criminal charge of simple assault in 2011 after being charged with 23 counts of sexual assault.

“I have found that when alone in the house in Leamington with O.P.T., the personal respondent abused his position of power and authority over her to require her to perform fellatio on him on three occasions and to penetrate her with his penis on another three occasions,” Tribunal’s vice chair Mark Hart said in his ruling. “O.P.T. felt compelled to comply with the personal respondent’s demands on the basis of his threats to send her back to Mexico, when she needed her job in Canada in order to help support her two children.”

The Harper government announced last year changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program allowing Ottawa to suspend or revoke the labour market opinions of employers found to be, or suspected to be, non-compliant with program requirements add the names of those business to a new public blacklist of ineligible employers created in 2011.

The then employment minister Jason Kenney claimed that announcement sent “a clear message that we are taking action against employers who abuse the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and that employers who break the rules will be publically named and face serious consequences.”

Critics have complained that the government has done very little to live up to the promises made last year, pointing out that the federal government has added only five employers have been added to the blacklist as of July 2015.

“There are still just 5 employers on the government’s list of companies with revoked LMIA permits – exactly the same as a year ago,” James Mallov, co-founder of Canadian Workers Advocacy Group, said in an emailed statement. “The Royal Bank, and iGate used the TFW Program to make Canadians train foreign replacements, then send those jobs out of the country. They are still not on the government’s prohibited lists. Owners of McDonald’s and Tim Horton’s franchises who abused the program aren’t on the list.”

“The Globe & Mail reported that in June 2013 that the Harper government announced powers to conduct surprise inspections of TFW workplaces,” Mallov added. “As of December 2014, it had never been used. Jason Kenney said that it was because it hadn’t been necessary.”

Allegations of Temporary Foreign Worker Program abuse against Presteve Foods go back as far as 2008, when a union accused the company was submitting fraudulent LMO applications.

“They’re displacing union jobs at $12.80 an hour with temporary foreign worker jobs at $8.75 an hour,” Carol Phillips, Assistant to the President, Canadian Auto Workers Union, told House of Commons citizenship and immigration committee in 2008. “The regular labour market opinion route was followed, but no one investigates an employer’s claims. In this case, Presteve fraudulently claimed there was no union on the application and that $8.75 was the prevalent wage in the workplace, so there is very little oversight for the regular route.”

Experts point out that the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is set up in away that allows employers to take advantage of vulnerable workers and subject them to sexual violence and harassment at the workplace.

“What happened in Presteve is that these workers from Mexico and Thailand had come to Canada. They were tied to that employer,” Fay Faraday Lawyer, Visiting Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School. “They had paid up to $10,000 in recruitment fees. When they arrived they were living in a bunkhouse on the employer’s property, so were completely isolated from the local community, and were subject to extensive practices of sexual violence and harassment on the job.”

“The inability to complain about that is very real because they can’t quit and get another job; they are tied to that employer,” Faraday added. “They can’t quit because they have to pay back the recruitment fees.”

Critics argue that the way the program is structure allowing the for abuse of workers is a reflection of the government’s callous indifference to the workers’ well-being.

“This is a government which announced plans to make TFWs up to 15% cheaper in 2012 – as the number of TFWs present Canada soared past 300,000 in 2011,” Mallov concluded. “You couldn’t make it plainer that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and employment minister Pierre Poilievre, and his predecessor Jason Kenney, don’t care what happens to workers in this country.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.