Unscrupulous Recruiting Practices A Hazard To New Manitoba Immigrants

Unscrupulous recruiting practices a hazard to new Manitoba immigrants

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Some of the immigrants Manitoba has been recruiting to fill a growing need for skilled workers have fallen victim to a scheme that required them to pay for access to jobs, a practice that is illegal in the province.

It's a situation faced by a group of seven Filipino men, who, after 15 years of driving trucks in Saudi Arabia for about $350 per month, 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 “1,000s 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 of repercussions.

Once they landed the jobs in Manitoba, which has the highest rate of immigration in Canada, 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.

Men racked up $9,000 in debt

After arriving in Winnipeg six months ago and paying the initial fee, the seven truckers had so little money between them that the local Filipino community donated food to them.

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 another of the men.

The men's debts each reached more than $9,000.

There are several problems with the contracts the men signed, according to Ken Zaifman, a Winnipeg immigration lawyer.

The men were charged a recruitment fee, which is illegal under Manitoba's Employment Services Act.

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 could have to pay $2,500.

While neither of those clauses are illegal, Zaifman said he questions their enforceability.

“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.”

Recruiting company will refund fees

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.

One Mercan Capital employee was responsible for the recruiting effort that brought the seven men to Manitoba, Morgan said, and the person has since been fired.

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 in Winnipeg, the men said.

While they are working for different companies now, the men have little left to live on, they said, and far less than they had imagined to send home to their families in the Philippines.

Any other workers who fell victim to the recruiting scheme are also eligible for a refund