The horrors of working in Canada: How immigrants are cheated and what to do?
Girls from Ukraine got a job in Canada, but faced a violation of their rights by their employer. They agreed to tell how they got out of this situation.
To get a job in Canada, sometimes you have to go a long and hard way. And the worst thing is to find an unscrupulous employer. Lyusya and Alya, girls from Ukraine, who went to work on a farm in the province of Ontario, encountered such a situation. They had dreamt of Canada for a long time, but upon arrival they received accommodation in poor condition, humiliation from managers, threats of dismissal and constant overtime.
Immigrant women's history
Both Lucy and Ali have experience of living in different European countries and working in the agri-food industry.
"Free country, good pay, security," was how the girls imagined Canada.
They chose this country, among other things, because it was much easier to obtain permanent residency there than in other countries. The girls had originally planned to apply through the Express Entry system, but decided to follow a friend who had a work contract with one of the pepper farms.
Employment and conditions
Lyusya and Alya got a job through a recruiting agency in their home country, Ukraine. For farm workers, they offer a schedule of 45 hours a week with minimum hourly wage in the province where the job is open. The girls are employed in Ontario, where the minimum wage is $14.35 CAD per hour. Agency's services together with the work visa cost about $3000-4000 USD.
No language tests were required for the job, you only had to write about yourself and attach a 3x4 cm photo. It took about a month and a half to process all the documents.
The greenhouse where the girls were accommodated was a 40-minute drive from the nearest town, the shop could only be reached by car. The agency promised the girls accommodation in a new house, but they ended up in a dirty house with no repairs.
"We were cleaning everything after an 11-hour flight, it was impossible to even go to bed there," Alya says about their check-in.
They paid for utilities (about $125 CAD per month) and bought their own groceries. Their employer took them out to the store every two weeks.
Problems at work
It turned out that housing was not the worst thing that awaited Alya and Lucy in Canada. After a week on the job, while the girls were still training, accusations began pouring in for all sorts of reasons. They were accused of damaging products and low sales, they were threatened with dismissal, and their managers regularly raised their voices. This affected not only Liusya and Alya, but all the workers from their country.
But then it got worse — work without days off started. Employees worked 65-70 hours a week instead of the required 45. The overtime was paid at the regular rate, without extra pay. This went on for a month and a half, after which the girls thought about returning home.
They could not get another job because they received a closed-type visa, which allows them to work for only one employer.
Lyusia and Alya decided to look for ways to solve the problem. They found a programme to protect vulnerable workers on the Canadian government website, which details what to do if you come across an unscrupulous employer.
"We decided to try to complain, we thought maybe something would work out. We didn't really believe in it, but we decided to try," the girls said.
They needed to send evidence to the government of violations of employees' rights. These were photos of the home and work schedule, as well as a detailed description of what was going on.
Just three days later, Alya and Lucia received a reply that their complaint had been processed. Another week later, they received new work permits in the mail, which allow them to work for any company in Canada.
The other side of Canada
The girls moved to Vancouver, the province of British Columbia. In order to expect to live permanently in the future, they decided to aim for two immigration programs at once: Lucia has taken a job as a cook's assistant and will apply under the low to medium skilled stream, for which workers in the hotel and restaurant industry are suitable, and Alya has become a nanny for a Russian-speaking family and plans to apply under the nanny program.
Currently Lucia works 8 hours 5 days a week for $17 CAD per hour plus an additional $2 CAD per hour, for a total of $19 CAD per hour. In addition, there are free lunches (any dishes from the menu).
"It's actually a very easy job. I make preserves, cut cheeses, chop vegetables, sometimes I help make salads," shared Liusya.
Alya, on the other hand, ended up with a good family that pays her $18 CAD per hour with the same schedule.
The cost of living in Canada
Vancouver is one of Canada's most expensive cities, and the girls work for a very modest, by Canadian standards, salary. But, according to them, they have enough for everything.
They rent part of a detached house — it is a living room, bedroom and kitchen, and the girls share the bathroom with another family. Rent costs $1200 CAD a month, utilities are included, internet is shared with the neighbors and costs $25 CAD. $500-600 CAD for two people goes for food, about $200 CAD for travel.
Lucy and Alya said that each of them has $1300-1500 CAD a month to spend on entertainment, travel and gifts for parents after all the expenses.
Alex Pavlenko, founder of Immigrant.Today