A pandemic measure allowing visitor visa holders to apply for work permits was exploited, leaving hundreds of foreigners working in poor conditions without documentation, a new class action lawsuit alleges.
The Immigrant Workers Centre (IWC) filed the suit on Tuesday, Oct. 3 claiming the immigrant worker agency Trésor encouraged workers to come to Canada on visitor visas and work until their permits were processed.
At a press conference in the IWC office on Wednesday, Oct. 4, workers said only a few ever actually received permits. The rest were left in limbo in jobs rife with wage theft, harassment, and abuse.
Now, they’re seeking damages for violations of workers’ Quebec Charter rights.
Most of the workers came from Latin America and were given jobs at Newrest, a catering company that supplies many of the in-flight meals at Pierre Elliot Trudeau airport. Newrest is also named in the suit for employing workers without permits and subjecting them to poor and even abusive working conditions.
The IWC says part of the problem is the system of closed work permits that prevents foreign workers from changing jobs once in Canada.
“Through this scheme, Newrest and Trésor have created a category of migrant worker who are even more vulnerable than closed work permit holders,” the IWC’s Benoit Scowen told reporters.
“It is time to drop this cruel system and give migrant workers the right to freely choose their employers so they are not vulnerable to companies like Newrest and Trésor.”
Karla*, who is named in the lawsuit as “K,” describes encountering Trésor shortly after coming to Canada with her husband and young daughter. She went through a long and costly process in good faith, she says, working on a “probationary” period until receiving a work permit. That permit never came.
Both she and her husband were let go after she spoke up about mistreatment at Newrest, Karla alleges.
“I feel that I am one more of dozens or maybe hundreds of workers who have been scammed, deceived, and have had their rights violated, both labour and human rights.”
Multiple federal departments as well as Quebec’s Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité au travail will also investigate the companies. Due to the allegations of abuse, workers have been granted temporary, open work permits. The IWC believes over 400 workers could have fallen victim to the scheme, and are urging anyone working on visitor visas for either company to come forward.
*Workers declined to give their full names to protect themselves from retaliation or blacklisting. The workers in this radio story are the two whose experiences are detailed in the filing, under the aliases “K” and “H.” They did however introduce themselves with first names at the press conference on Wednesday, Oct. 4.