Workers’ rights advocates say many migrants know little about labour rights and British Columbia’s health-care system — information they say is not readily available for newcomers to Canada and the province.
“One of the saddest things that I see is workers do not know their rights,” said Claudia Chavez, health co-ordinator for Dignidad Migrante, an organization run by foreign workers to help other foreign workers.
The organization, together with non-profit DIVERSECity, held a community fair last weekend offering informational presentations and other services like free massages and haircuts.
The fair’s focus was connecting workers with health-care information and resources.
About 100,000 temporary foreign workers come to Canada each year through the country’s temporary foreign workers program, with a third of those working in B.C., mostly in the agriculture sector, according to the organization.
More than 70,000 agricultural workers came to Canada through the program, most from Mexico, Guatemala, Jamaica, Thailand, and the Philippines, according to Statistics Canada.
Volunteers say some of these workers find themselves in precarious, even dangerous, working conditions, often without knowledge of where to turn to for help.
“Some of them work 16 hours [a day] and they don’t know that they’re overworking, and that’s not legal,” said Chavez, who is part of a team of four volunteer doctors giving advice to migrant workers, connecting them with health resources, and providing medical translations.
Her team helps migrants apply for B.C.’s Medical Service Plan, which Chavez says many are not aware they are entitled to.
She says some migrants do not report work-related injuries due to a lack of knowledge or out of fear of losing work.
“They feel if something happens to them they will get deported or not called to jobs again.”
When Cecilia Moreno came to Canada two years ago, she had to figure out how to deal with MSP and visiting walk-in clinics.
“It’s very difficult,” she said.
She was working for a furniture design company, where the conditions and treatment of workers were poor. She was able to get help from the Dignidad Migrante Society, and now volunteers with the organization, hoping she can help other migrant workers in similar situations.
“They helped me a lot with my case,” she said.
Pedro Benito Aguilar has been working at the same rice farm in Canada for 18 years.
“We are treated well, we have good bosses,” he told CBC News through a translator at Sunday’s fair. “We are working in good conditions, we have new houses and they are very nice and kind people.”
Even so, he said, he attends any events he can that will give him more information about his rights.
“It’s good to know as workers that we can get these things.”
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