Foreign workers often homesick

Horror stories often fill the pages of newspapers about temporary foreign workers being taken advantage of by employers who make them work extra hours or agencies that charge exorbitant fees.

Horror stories often fill the pages of newspapers about temporary foreign workers being taken advantage of by employers who make them work extra hours or agencies that charge exorbitant fees.

However, a more common challenge for workers can that they miss their families in a country so far away from their own.

Raymond Lopez has been in Red Deer for 11 months. He works doing meat cutting, slaughter and even operating the forklift at Canadian Premium Meats in Lacombe.

The 32-year-old likes his job and loves the country — so much so that he hopes to eventually move from being a temporary foreign worker to a permanent resident in Canada. Once that happens he would be able to sponsor his wife Shirly and one and a half year old daughter Ruth Sheiray to come to Canada from Batangas City in the Philippines.

But it’s hard for him to be so far away from his young family.

“I see a lot of families here and I get lonely,” said Lopez, with tears welling up in his eyes. He was one of the many workers who attended a session for live-in caregivers and temporary foreign workers held by the Philippine-Canadian Association of Red Deer and District at Festival Hall Sunday afternoon.

Lopez wanted to find out more about the process for becoming a permanent resident. Others had concerns about what to do if their hours are cut.

Alex Capicio, president of the Philippine-Canadian Association of Red Deer and District, said with recent news stories of a local caregiver being deported and workers alleging improper working conditions in an MPs home in Ontario, the association felt it was important to relieve the anxiety of workers by answering their questions.

Capicio said temporary foreign workers know what bottom looks like, coming from Third World countries.

He said they fear if they take a risk and speak against the system that they will be deported. He said the association wanted to let the workers know they can speak up and who they should talk to for help.

Edmonton-Mill Woods MLA Carl Benito, who was the first Filipino elected to the Alberta legislation, came for the information session, along with Jan Underwood, the public awareness and community educator for the Central Alberta Refugee Effort, Jaime Huizing, who is a settlement counsellor with Catholic Social Services, and Marius Curteanu, the temporary foreign worker advisor for Alberta Employment and Immigration.

Curteanu said there were 39,073 foreign workers in Alberta in 2008, with 453 in Red Deer. That compares to 156 in Red Deer in 2004 and 10,550 across the province that year.

Benito spoke to attendees in both Tagalog and English. He encouraged workers who felt they were being treated unfairly to call the Employment Standards help line at 1-877-944-9955 or go to the website www.employment.alberta.ca, where there are posters and guides in Tagalog, the language spoken in the Philippines, which can be found by putting Tagalog into the search box at the top of the website.

“Our message to (temporary foreign workers) across the province remains unchanged — Alberta values their contribution and is here to support them,” Benito said.

sobrien@bprda.wpengine.com