Port Alberni temporary foreign workers await their fate as government officials meet

Port Alberni temporary foreign workers await their fate as government officials meet
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Some of the workers are pictured at the work site in Port Alberni.

As 15 or so temporary foreign workers shelter at the Salvation Army in Victoria waiting to see what their futures hold, they’re beginning to worry about what comes next.

Kim Tran, who lives in Port Alberni and met the workers at a grocery store, is continuing to help the Vietnamese men. A day after the story broke, Tran says she still can’t believe they’re in this situation.

“They live in Canada, like that’s not right. [Treated] like, not like human,” said Tran.

RELATED: New details emerge in case of alleged human trafficking in Port Alberni

There are still questions about how the men arrived in Canada. Tran says each worker borrowed $20,000 to $30,000 to pay a recruiter to work at Port Alberni’s San Mill. The company, San Group, denies that ever happened.

Tran says the men now fear about repercussions if they’re sent home.

“They worry they send them back home and then they don’t have enough money to pay. Some people the say they worry they might get killed by owing money,” said Tran.

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According to Port Alberni’s chief administrative officer, local, provincial and federal officials are meeting to discuss the situation.

Shelly D’Mello, with the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria, says when it comes to the care of temporary foreign workers, the onus is on the company.

“Food, health, nutrition, housing in some cases, safety. When it’s a closed work permit, that employer becomes responsible for those pieces,” said D’Mello.

A closed work permit, versus an open permit, means the temporary worker’s visa is tied to a specific company. D’Mello says closed permits make a worker much more vulnerable. For instance, the workers don’t qualify for MSP, so any injuries on the job are the employer’s responsibility to deal with.

D’Mello also says Canada’s reliance upon temporary foreign workers is growing.

“And we’ve got to be careful that we don’t slide or slip in that obligation, and that duty of care for those who are helping us,” said D’Mello.

The future of the 15 or so men that are being cared for in Victoria remains uncertain.

READ PREVIOUS: Port Alberni company denies ‘human trafficking’ allegations after Vietnamese workers leave

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