HALIFAX, NS — A group of 29 foreign workers who came to Halifax from the Philippines were granted special permission to stay in Canada on Wednesday after their employer was arrested under suspicion of mistreating employees.
The workers who gathered at the Halifax immigration office were abuzz with excitement and relief as they planned their next steps.
Their futures in Canada were thrown into doubt when their employer’s Dartmouth home was raided on April 10 by Canada Border Service agents. No charges have been laid and CBSA says the investigation is ongoing.
The arrest changed their employer’s status, making their temporary visas no longer valid and leaving them as illegal residents in the country.
Immigration Canada told them on Wednesday that they’d could to stay until they could get new work permits or permanent residency status.
The employer ran a cleaning company franchise, Jani-King, and had the contract to clean Halifax City Hall.
“As soon as the job doesn’t exist, the work permit doesn’t exist – so they were stuck, in the cross hairs,” said Immigration lawyer Elizabeth Wozniak who is representing the group.
Wozniak said some of the workers were being paid as little as three dollars an hour.
She said the workers were being exploited and were essentially being coerced into living and working in conditions that shouldn’t exist anywhere, let alone in Canada, adding that she’s never seen a case of foreign worker mistreatment on this scale.
The regional Jani-King office in Dartmouth did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
City staff there says as soon as they became aware of the situation they met with the company and wrote the franchisee out of the contract and are now paying the regional company directly.
Wozniak said there wasn’t much the City could have done to safeguard against the situation.
“HRM would never have known that these individuals were being exploited and you never would have thought that some sort of criminal activity was happening,” said Wozniak.
In the meantime, the group just wants to move on with their lives in Canada.
“We’re going to find a job because there is family waiting for our support,” says Richelle Villanueva, one of the workers.
Hiring prospects for the 29 people look good said Wozniak, with many local businesses stepping forward with offers.