by Cynthia Flores/Asianjournal.com
LOS ANGELES – After 15 years of driving trucks in Saudi Arabia for about $350 per month, a group of seven Filipino men saw an ad in a Saudi newspaper from the Montreal-based immigration consulting firm Mercan Capital Ltd.
“Immigrate to Canada,” the ad said, offering “work permits,” “high salary” and “great opportunities” for welders, truck drivers, mechanics and others, as well as “permanent residency” and “thousands of jobs” for technicians, teachers, engineers administrators and other professionals.
“All Filipinos dream to work in Canada because of a little bit higher salary,” said one of the men, who asked that his identity not be revealed out of fear.
The seven men left their jobs in Saudi and landed the jobs in Manitoba, the province with the highest rate of immigration in Canada. Upon their arrival, the men were told they had to sign a contract in which they agreed to pay $5,000 in fees directly to the recruiting company. This practice is illegal under Manitoba’s Employment Services Act.
After paying the initial fee, the seven truckers had so little money that the local Filipino community donated food to them.
But that wasn’t the end of it. Mercan Capital Ltd. then told them they’d have to pay even more. “After you pay the $5,000, you have to bring extra money to pay for the school for driving,” said one of the men. The men’s debts each reached more than $9,000.
In addition, the contract includes clauses saying if the job ends before two years are up, the men are on the hook for $5,000 more — and if they discuss the terms of the contract with anyone, they would have to pay $2,500.
With the help of the Filipino community, the seven men looked for other companies to work for and left the unscrupulous recruiters.
The story of the truck drivers was reported in the media and the president of the company was interviewed. Jerry Morgan, president of Mercan Capital Ltd., acknowledged to CBC News that some of the contracts’ terms are considered illegal under employment legislation. The company no longer uses those methods, he said. The Mercan Capital employee who was responsible for the recruiting effort that brought the seven men to Manitoba has since been fired, Morgan said.
The seven truck drivers were not the only people who signed such contracts, Morgan said, adding that he had been caught off-guard by the situation. The company could use more controls, he conceded. Morgan has agreed to refund any money that was spent by the workers, as is required by the Employment Services Act.
However, it wasn’t until CBC News contacted Mercan Capital that efforts were made to make payments to the seven workers. Previously, the company had made no effort to contact the truckers, the men said.
There are several problems with the contracts the men signed, according to Ken Zaifman, a Winnipeg immigration lawyer.
“To me, the intention is more to intimidate than as a legal remedy,” he said. “I would be surprised if a court would uphold these provisions, and I would be very surprised if any consultant would want this contract to see the light of day in court.”
While they are working for different companies now, the seven men have little left to live on and far less than they had imagined to send home to their families in the Philippines.