Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 21, 2007
Immigrant workers often denied rights
Greater Edmonton Alliance says guidelines should be made available in various languages
By BILL GLEN
"I think there is some fear out there on the immigrants' part if they say something."
- Cindy Thompson
"This session is to advise workers about workplace rights and standards," said Ahmadi, a GEA member. "They become aware of their rights and learn there are some governmental organizations that take care of it."
Michael Walters says a problem exists when, out of fear of losing his or her job, a worker refuses to say he or she is being mistreated.
"Some companies hire family leaders and place them in well paying jobs. They, in turn, recruit from within the family or others from their own communities, and the company treats them very poorly. What are they to do?" said Walters, a GEA representative.
"Are they going to rat on their own uncle? The nephews and nieces don't want to upset things. It's ruthless. And we hear a lot of stories like that."
Low wages for immigrant workers, denial of their rights and workplace mistreatment are the main issues the GEA is addressing with immigrant leaders and Alberta government representatives.
In November 2006, the GEA approached the Employment, Industry and Immigration (EII) department of the Alberta government and coordinated a pilot training session.
Some 30 immigrant community leaders met with an employment standards educator, who discussed what happens to some immigrant workers.
The government representative told them about the workers' rights and what should have happened. From that meeting came discussion on how to make employment standards more accessible to the workers through education and translation. Currently, all material is in English only.
GEA wants the Alberta government to translate the most effective material available for newcomers into several languages, including Chinese, Punjabi, Arabic and Spanish.
Cindy Thompson says the government is committed to training community leaders so they better understand and learn how to identify their people's issues.
"I think there is some fear out there on the immigrants' part if they say something. We want them to speak freely," said Thompson, education program coordinator for the EII. She attended the May 12 meeting. "There is a large group interested in making this work."
Thompson will identify what issues are relevant to the concerns of the group, or the individual, and direct them to where they can get the best help.
"If it's a safety issue, for example, there are a lot of people here to help them out," she said. "Our area is to do the pro-active work with workplaces, trying to get them to get along so that issues don't become a dispute."
Walters said the GEA is pleased with some components of this campaign, but added that it is a highly complex situation.
"There are some strong and powerful immigrant leaders in Edmonton who, if they see a major problem, now have an opportunity to work with the government."
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