Friday, September 9, 2011

Exploiting cheap immigrant labour

New immigrants and foreign workers with approved visas always end up being short-changed, by the government, their employers and recruiting agencies. It’s the heavy price they pay for the opportunity to come to North America, whether in the United States or in Canada.

In Prince George’s County and Baltimore in the state of Maryland, about 1,000 Filipino teachers face deportation or run the risk of being undocumented immigrants. These teachers were recruited by Prince George’s County Public School (PGCPS) to fill vacancies and help meet federally-mandated “No Child Left Behind” standards imposed by former U.S. President George W. Bush. Only a handful of them will survive the threat of deportation, mostly from the first batch of mentors who came in 2003-2004 and have already obtained their “green cards.”
Filipino teachers in Prince George's County in Maryland say their visas will not
be renewed after the U.S. Department of Labour found that their school violated
H-1B visa rules. Photo courtesy of All Voices. Click link to view "Pinoy Teachers
in PGCPS,"
These teachers were recruited from the Philippines under the U.S. H-1B program which requires that workers hired under the program must be paid at least the same wage rates and benefits as those paid to U.S. workers doing the same job in the same area. The rationale for the law is to ensure that the wages of similarly employed U.S. workers are not adversely affected.

But Prince George’s County charged visa, travel and other various fees from the teachers’ wages, prompting the U.S. Department of Labour to find PGCPS in wilful violation of H-1B visa rules. Instead of imposing sanctions against the school, however, the labour department barred the teachers from participation in the H-1B or the green card visa program for two years and threatened them with $100,00o fine.  Currently, some 957 Filipino teachers are scheduled to lose their jobs as their visas are about to expire. They are being forced to leave the U.S. or stand to become undocumented immigrants.

Interestingly, the labour department’s order did not cover about 600 Filipino teachers in Baltimore who were also subjected to the same hiring practices that were found in violation of the H-1B program. The Baltimore Public School System quietly paid back the fees that were illegally collected from their Filipino teachers, thus avoiding the fate that befell the Prince George’s County teachers.
Fillipino teachers stage rally in Prince George's County in Maryland. Photo by Gabriela
Garcia. Click link
 to view "The U.S. Dept of Labor rules that the Prince  George's County Public School
violated H-1B Program."
Here in the province of Ontario, Canada, new immigrants are now being labelled as “foreigners” in the eyes of the Progressive Conservative Party (PC) that is attempting to replace the incumbent Liberal government which has been in power for the last eight years. PC leader Tim Hudak denounced the Liberal plan to offer $12 million in tax credits for businesses to defray training costs for skilled newcomers so they can get job experience as an “affirmative program for foreigners.”

Only a few months ago, the PC’s federal cousins led by Jason Kenney, the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration, have praised the valuable contributions of new immigrants to Canada’s economy, whose skills, Kenney tells everyone, the country needs. Now, all of a sudden, the provincial PCs are calling them “foreigners.”
Ontario Progressive Conservative Party (PC) ad attacking Liberal Party tax credit
plan. Click link  to view
"Ontarians Need Not Apply" 
There is one word in Filipino that best describes Tim Hudak’s about-face categorization of new immigrants as foreigners: “Hudas!”

Aren’t we all foreigners in this land at one time or another, including Mr. Hudak?

In the first place, Canada is responsible for placing new immigrants in jobs they were slotted or targeted to do when their impeccable qualifications and credentials were being reviewed by immigration officers. Unaware that their credentials would not be recognized upon coming to Canada, these new immigrants would further be humiliated during their job hunting when prospective employers require them to show Canadian work experience. So, they end up doing survival jobs like taxi driving, working as hospital orderlies or maintenance workers, jobs far beneath their qualifications.

Any provincial program that would facilitate the integration of newcomers in this country’s labour market by giving them the required job experience is nothing different from any government training programs designed to prepare or retrain workers who lost their jobs in the recession. In fact, such program would help in dismantling the barriers that seem to be the primary stumbling block to the employment of newcomers. If relevant Canadian work experience is indeed necessary for the job a new immigrant is applying for, then this type of program bridges that chasm.

Calling new immigrants “foreigners” is irresponsible, divisive and full of racial undercurrents. It is dividing the people of Ontario into “us” and “them,” and that is not good for our society as a whole.

The impending deportation of Filipino teachers in Prince George’s County is both an unfair labour practice and also an act of racial discrimination. Where is fairness in a decision to allow the visas of these teachers to expire and remove them out of the country when it is not even their fault that their hiring violated the H-1B program? It is reasonable and lawful that the PGCPS be fined or barred from hiring foreign workers under the H-1B program but the ban should apply to prospective hirings, not to those already in the system and have nothing to do with the school’s fault. For one thing, these teachers should be commended for improving the school’s performance and meeting state measurements.

This reminds us whether Ontario provincial legislation, the Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act (Live-in Caregivers and Others) or EPFNA, which came into effect last March 2010 is being complied with by both employers and recruitment agencies. Two salient provisions of this Act prohibit recruiters from charging any fees to foreign live-in caregivers and prevent employers from recovering placement costs from the live-in caregiver. How do we know these provisions are being followed?

Not until a live-in caregiver files a complaint can an investigation proceed. We have not heard of complaints by caregivers except for the claim filed against a former federal member of Parliament, a case that was obviously driven by political motivation. Don’t expect a foreign live-in caregiver to initiate a complaint knowing full well that her dream of permanent resident status hangs on the balance, so she would rather bear the hardship and abuses while she waits to be entitled to apply for permanent residence.

Under the Ontario Employment Standards Act, a live-in caregiver is also entitled to be paid the minimum wage and for overtime work. But there’s a loophole which an employer can exploit. An employer is allowed to deduct from the caregiver’s wages amounts corresponding to room and board. With respect to overtime, how do we know if an employer pays overtime pay when a caregiver exceeds 44 hours of work each week? When a caregiver wakes up in the middle of the night because the child she is taking care of is crying or the senior person under her care needs to go the bathroom, does she get compensation for overtime?

Granting for the sake argument that a caregiver files a complaint against her employer and the latter is found in violation of the EPFNA or the Employment Standards Act. The employer would be probably be fined, and that is all right. But what would happen to the caregiver? Presumably, she would be released and be looking for another employer, or perhaps, she goes undocumented and will keep on hoping to stay until Canada Immigration catches on her and removes her out of the country.

In both the United States and Canada, the foreign worker is under the mercy of the government and the employer. Lured by a dream of a better life abroad, foreign workers have been subjected to different forms of exploitation, manipulation and abuse. Placement agencies take advantage of the complexities of the recruitment process, sometimes with the collaboration of employers. In most cases, foreign workers leave their country deep in debt in raising money needed to cover for exorbitant placement fees, visa and travel expenses.

But one lesson we learn from the exploitation of foreign workers is that their government is also complicit in this. The Philippine government, which relies on export of cheap labour and their dollar remittances, is equally at fault. Instead of developing local industries, generating jobs at home, and restructuring the economy to serve national interests rather than foreign investors, the Philippine government keeps on relying on overseas workers to sustain the economy. But dollar remittances from overseas workers only raise consumption spending and do not go to investment in industries that will create jobs and really strengthen the economy in the long run.

No comments:

Post a Comment