Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 27, 2008
Knights reach out to foreign workers
Many temporary foreign workers fear that if they speak out against their working conditions they will be deported.
By GLEN ARGAN
Nazareno Council, the Edmonton-based Filipino council of the Knights of Columbus, is reaching out to help temporary foreign workers from the Philippines.
Lito Reyes, the former state deputy and Nazareno Council member who is spearheading the project, said he is upset by unjust treatment of many of the thousands of temporary workers from his former homeland who have come to Alberta.
Some workers work long hours with no awareness of their rights and they are victimized by “unscrupulous recruiters” who extract large cash payments from the unskilled workers they have brought to Canada, Reyes said in an interview.
Many of the workers are restrained from speaking out by their fears. “They come here and they don’t know anybody. They fear that if they leave their employer, they will be kicked out of Canada.
“The concern I have is that the workers don’t know their rights. They just work, work, work,” he said. “I discussed this with the council. I said, ‘We just have to do something.’”
Nazareno Council is made up of Filipino Catholics. It wants to help at least some of the foreign workers by hosting an afternoon presentation Nov. 1 (1 to 5 p.m.) at St. Theresa’s Church with representatives of provincial and federal governments who will make temporary workers who attend more aware of their rights.
Dinner and dance
The Knights will also host a Halloween dinner and dance that evening at St. Theresa’s and will provide 200 complimentary tickets to Filipino contract workers.
The province operates a 24-hour hotline to respond to the concerns of temporary workers. “But workers are not going to phone and leave their names because they are scared.”
However, people phoning the hotline do not need to give their names.
Reyes spoke of one temporary worker who was fired from his hotel job and is now working underground at another hotel out of fear of being deported.
Reyes has been on a mission to find temporary foreign workers, seeking them out in restaurants, hotels and fast food outlets. In mid-October, he visited 12 restaurants and hotels in his hometown of Leduc and made contact with foreign workers, urging them to attend the Nov. 1 events and bring their companions.
Other K of C councils in Leduc, Wetaskiwin, Ponoka and Spruce Grove have been helping with the event and have pledged to transport foreign workers from their areas to the information session.
In July, Nazareno Council collected and donated furniture and household goods for a house full of five foreign workers in Leduc who had little to call their own.
Reyes said most employers treat their foreign workers well. For example, Tim Hortons in Leduc employees several foreign workers and provides a bus service for them to get to work from Edmonton.
Many of the workers, even though they are poor, are happy to be in Canada. “They say, ‘At least we are in Canada. New life! New hope!”
Many are also supporting family members in the Philippines. Because of that, Nazareno Council decided to pay for the Nov. 1 meal for them. The council is accepting donations to defray the costs and one Filipino realtor even donated $1,000.
All of the Nazareno Council members were once immigrants themselves and know the struggles the newcomers face, Reyes said. “You’ve received so much, now it’s time to give something back.”
They have made personal contacts with the workers who know of the Knights from the Philippines. “Some say, ‘My uncle even has that funny cape and sword” worn by fourth degree knights.
Reyes said he doesn’t know how many workers will attend the Nov. 1 event. But he does hope that those who do attend will become more aware of their rights and less fearful of deportation.
“If nothing else, they’ll know that we are here to help them with their problems.”
(Information about the rights of foreign workers is available from the Alberta government by phoning 780-427-3731.)
(More information about Nazareno Council’s information session for temporary foreign workers can be obtained from Lito Reyes at 780-986-6136 or Manuel Ibasco at 780-499-8679.)