Janitors allege deportation threats, withheld cash

A group of Edmonton janitors is suing a cleaning company for $42,435 over allegations that overtime money is being held back and that they have been threatened with deportation.

The janitors, many of whom are temporary foreign workers from the Philippines, say their employer, University of Alberta contractor Bee Clean Building Maintenance, is refusing to pay them tens of thousands of dollars in overtime.

Bee Clean declined to comment on the allegations.

When the non-unionized workers questioned the company about the alleged lost wages, they claim they were being threatened with deportation.

Danilo DeLeon, who is a temporary foreign worker from the Philippines, moved to Edmonton to work for Bee Clean about a year and a half ago.

'They treat us like slaves, not [as] workers.'-Danilo DeLeon

He said he works five, 12-hour shifts every week, with an extra seven-hour shift on what would otherwise be his day off.

DeLeon said he's supposed to get time and a half for anything more than 80 hours every two weeks.

But Bee Clean has refused to pay, he claimed.

"They treat us like slaves, not [as] workers," DeLeon said.

When he told his employer he would contact a union or the Ministry of Labour about Bee Clean's refusal to pay him, DeLeon said his boss threatened to have him deported.

"My supervisor threatened to send me back home. He said the owner was upset," he said.

Still, DeLeon told the Service Employees International Union about his case.

Union spokeswoman Merryn Edwards said it has filed civil suits to try to get money for five Bee Clean employees.

Edwards said the union filed an unfair labour practice complaint with the Alberta Labour Relations Board on Friday.

Workers are afraid to complain: advocate

"The level of threats and intimidation here is very serious. You know the threats of deportation being perhaps the most serious, but to be threatened with job loss or having their hours cut is very serious," Edwards said.

Amy Kaler, a sociology professor at the University of Alberta said the university needs to seriously looks at the allegations of underpayment, harassment and unsafe working conditions.

"As an university employee, I'm embarrassed that the person who cleans my office and empties my waste basket has to put up with the kind of degrading treatment that the people here are telling us this morning," Kaler said Friday at news conference at the University of Alberta on the issue.

Yessy Byl, a temporary foreign worker advocate with the Alberta Federation of Labour, said the Bee Clean case is a prime example of exploitative issues temporary foreign workers across Canada face on a daily basis.

Earlier this month, Alberta announced it would be reviewing a program that brings temporary foreign workers to the province.

Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk said the review will look at what impact the arrival of thousands of workers from out of the country has on Alberta's workforce.

Calgary MLA Theresa Woo-Paw, who is leading the review, will report her findings and recommendations by spring 2011.

As well, the Temporary Foreign Worker program, a federal initiative, was established to help employers fill temporary jobs.

Despite the governments' efforts, however, temporary foreign workers still live in fear, Byl said.

"Most foreign workers are afraid to complain, because they are in situations where they are supporting families back home. They need this job desperately," she said at the news conference.

More than 60,000 in Alberta

Byl said the federal and provincial governments do nothing to protect temporary foreign workers if they are wrongfully terminated. In fact, governments make it impossible for the worker to get a new job, and in the end the worker is deported, she said.

"At no time does the employer get prosecuted by the federal government or provincial government [for the wrongful termination]," she said. "It's the workers who end up bearing the burden."

There are more than 60,000 temporary foreign workers in Alberta, according to provincial officials.

CBC News, Fri Oct 1 2010

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