Henry Aguirre, a temporary foreign worker from Guatemala, considered himself lucky when he got a job in Quebec as a chicken catcher, rounding up poultry and handing them over for processing.
Aguirre, 27, said he was quickly disillusioned when he learned the job paid him by volume instead of full-time, with no pay for time spent travelling from farm to farm.
He said he and his fellow Guatemalan workers had signed job offers they didn’t understand since they were all written in French.
“We didn’t understand the work permit, if we had we wouldn’t have signed,” he said through an interpreter in a recent interview.
Aguirre was one of a group of foreign workers and activists who attended a small demonstration outside Montreal’s St Joseph’s Oratory earlier this month to call for changes to Canada’s temporary foreign worker program.
Among other things, they are calling for an end to the practice of issuing closed work permits, which restricts a worker to a single employer.
Viviana Medina, a community organizer who attended the protest, said closed work permits, language barriers and a fear of losing their jobs means many workers are reluctant to file complaints against their employers.
“The moment they say something, they’ll be sent back,” she said. “They have to stay in these conditions because they don’t want to lose their jobs.”
A study from the Université de Québec published earlier this month found that many Guatemalan migrant workers in the province are charged recruitment fees in their home countries, despite such practices being prohibited.
The study, which is based on interviews conducted between June and November 2015, found some workers even ended up using the deeds to their homes as a guarantee they’d pay back the money they owed for recruitment fees, according to the spokesman for a union that helped with the study.