A victory in the fight for justice for migrant workers

By Susanna Allevato Quail

Imagine leaving everything behind: friends and family, a familiar culture, the life you thought you'd live. Paying a shady company you don't know much about thousands of dollars, a nearly impossible amount of money that you somehow scrape together through hard work, loans, and selling what you and your family can, all so you can get a minimum-wage job in Canada. Travelling across the globe, landing in Vancouver, being taken by a stranger to a dingy suburban hotel where you are to share a room with several more strangers, also migrant workers like yourself.

Now imagine doing all this only to find that the job you paid thousands of dollars for, left everything behind for, isn't there at all. You show up on your first day of work only to be told, we decided we don't need you after all. Go away, and don't call us again.

That's what happened to our client, and on June 16 Judge Challenger of the North Vancouver Provincial Court ruled in her favour, ordering her employer to pay her the wages he had contracted to provide, the wages that she gave up everything to come and earn.

You can read the whole decision here.

The amount of money at stake in this case wasn't huge (migrant workers earn low wages, after all), but this feels like a huge win for us. The most gratifying part of our work is seeing justice done for those who thought they could never attain it. Migrant workers too often feel that they have no rights in our society, and truthfully their rights are very limited. It is all too easy for employers to treat them like they are disposable: to sign a contract, induce them to travel to Canada and pay massive fees to unscrupulous recruiters, and then decide at the last minute, nah, no job for you.

More important than the money that our client has been awarded is the feeling she has that she told her story and the judge heard it. She stood before the judge and described what happened to her. That's a hard thing to do when you feel powerless. But she did it, and the judge believed her and rejected the employer's testimony. The truth of her experience is recorded in a public judgment, and the employer must suffer the consequence of its wrongdoing against her.

This one decision is a drop in the bucket in the broader context of the exploitation of migrant workers but it is work we feel very strongly about and principles we will always fight for.

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