Union Encourages More Temporary Workers to Come Forward

Applauding the courage of temporary foreign workers who expose abuse, United Steelworkers launches confidential website and toll-free line to encourage more workers to tell their stories.

TORONTO, Dec. 20, 2013 /CNW/ - It's not easy for temporary foreign workers to speak publicly about abuse and intimidation in their workplaces, but the United Steelworkers (USW) hopes to change that.

The USW has launched a website and toll-free phone number to encourage workers to confidentially reach out for help.

The website and toll-free number are part of the USW's national campaign, Give Everyone A Chance for Canada's Future, that advocates for changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

"The group of temporary foreign workers from the Philippines has shown remarkable courage in coming forward with very serious allegations against Tim Hortons in Fernie, B.C.," said Stephen Hunt, USW Western Canada Director.

"Our objective is to help empower more workers to do the same," Hunt said.

"Members of Steelworkers Local 9346 in Fernie gained the workers' confidence and have been actively supporting and assisting them," Hunt noted.

"Temporary Foreign Workers face risks by going public with claims against an employer because they depend on that employer for their future and well-being. Having the support and assistance of unions helps these brave workers take the difficult steps towards seeking justice."

The Steelworkers and other unions are publicly supporting the Filipino workers in B.C., offering advice and helping workers file claims with the British Columbia Employment Standards Branch.

The Filipino workers claim their employer exploited and intimidated them and forced them to repay overtime, even driving employees to the bank and waiting while they cashed cheques to get back the money.

Given the serious nature of these claims, the Steelworkers, other unions and the B.C. Federation of Labour successfully called on the RCMP to investigate.

"This is simply a case of workers in our community stepping up to help other workers in need," said Alex Hanson, President of Local 9346.

"Steelworkers and the labour movement are showing we're here to help temporary foreign workers," said Ken Neumann, USW National Director for Canada.

"As we've seen from media coverage, these workers are vulnerable and they're scared. With unions behind them, their confidence grows and they can begin to seek justice," Neumann sad.

"We believe the case at Tim Hortons in Fernie is the tip of the iceberg and we are ready to help any temporary foreign worker who comes to us for help."

Despite the Harper Conservatives' promise to address abuse through increased enforcement of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), absolutely no employers have been identified as ineligible to participate in the TFWP.

Yet, the recent allegations of temporary foreign workers (TFWs) in Fernie are not the first of their kind.

Serious allegations were made last year at another Tim Hortons location in Dawson Creek, B.C., where TFWs claimed their boss exploited and discriminated against them. And TFWs at a Denny's Restaurant in B.C. recently settled a class action with the company after they alleged they were illegally charged thousands of dollars in recruitment fees and not paid for overtime.

"The fact that the Fernie case is not unique shows that the Harper Conservatives are not protecting these vulnerable workers," Hunt said. "We want temporary foreign workers to know we are here to help."

Workers can share their stories and ask for help confidentially at www.everyoneschance.ca, or by calling 1-888-899-4405.

SOURCE United Steelworkers (USW)

For further information:

Joe Drexler, USW Strategic Campaigns, 416-434-7907, jdrexler@usw.ca
Stephen Hunt, USW District 3 Director, 604-683-1117, shunt@usw.ca
Bob Gallagher, USW Communications, 416-544-5966, 416-434-2221, bgallagher@usw.ca