Tribunal, unions: Temporary foreign workers vulnerable to sexual harassment

By , on May 28, 2015

(Shutterstock image)
(Shutterstock image)

After concluding a sexual harassment case filed by two Mexican workers at an Ontario fish-processing plant, an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal stressed the vulnerability of temporary foreign workers to be sexually abused.

The Mexican workers, who were sisters, were threatened of being deported by their employer at Presteve Foods in Ontario if they refused to perform sex acts with him. Both women were sexually harassed, and one was forced to perform sex acts.

After resisting other sexual advances of their employer, the women’s work permits were then revoked and they were sent back to Mexico.

With the help of Unifor, Human Rights Legal Support Centre and Justicia for Migrant Workers unions, the Mexican workers were able to file criminal charges to the rights tribunal against their former employer. The victims were then awarded a total of $200,000 after winning the case.

The tribunal acknowledged that the women worked in a ‘sexually poisoned work environment’ as they were exposed to ‘sexual solicitation, sexual harassment and employment discrimination.’

“As a result of the nature of the temporary foreign worker programs in Canada, MPT (one of the harassed workers) worked under the ever-present threat of being sent back to Mexico if she did not do what she was told, which was made explicit to her by the employer and which ultimately was acted on by him in a discriminatory manner,” Adjudicator Mark Hart said in his judgment.

The tribunal also pointed out the employers’ power over their employees.

“[Therefore,] migrant workers … live under the ever-present threat of having their designated employer decide to end the employment relations for which they require no reason and for which there is no appeal or review,” Hart further said.

One of the victims released a statement through Unifor.

“I want to tell all women that are in a similar situation, that they should not be silent and that there is justice and they should not just accept mistreatment or humiliation. We must not stay silent,” she said.

“As a migrant one feels that she/he has to stay there [in the workplace] and there is nowhere to go or no one to talk to. Under the temporary foreign worker program, the boss has all the power — over your money, house, status, everything. They have you tied to their will,” she continued.

Though satisfied with the positive outcome of the case, several unions wanted reforms in the temporary foreign worker program. They called for a program that would guarantee the workers’ protection and will prevent such sexual abuses.

“You can’t protect women in the system that we have. If there’s a person going to do a bad thing, there’s nothing we’re going to be able to do to stop it,” Unifor member Niki Lundquist said.