Friday, March 25, 2011
26 OFW’s Accuse Recruiter Of Human Trafficking in Canada
By By JOSEPH G. LARIOSA (email@example.com)
(© 2011 Journal Group Link International)
Twenty-six Overseas Filipino Workers, mostly live-in caregivers (LIC’s), recruited to work in Montreal, Canada, were asked to sign housing lease contracts by their recruiter while waiting for their job offers. But they were never allowed to read nor were given copies of their contracts.
When they decided to leave their housing units because their recruiter abandoned them, the LIC’s were told to pay one-year rental payments because they failed to notify the landlord that they were leaving their housing units three months prior to the expiration of their one-year contract.
When the LIC’s were brought to the government’s Rental Board, the LIC’s told the Rental Board that they should not be penalized for paying a one-year rental contracts because they did not know that they were in violation of the housing lease contract.
They argued that because they were not given copies of their contracts nor allowed to read them before signing them, penalties on them should be waived.
The caregivers, who had no lawyer to speak for themselves in the French-speaking city of Quebec province, were told that ignorance of the law does not excuse them from being penalized.
When the “women turned to public agencies for help, help was not delivered,” according to a joint press release issued by Evelyn Calugay, president of the grassroots, non-for-profit support group, PINAY (Filipino colloquial word for Filipino woman) and Mr. Fo Niemi, executive director of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), a non-profit civil rights organization promoting racial harmony and equality. PINAY and CRARR are both based in Montreal.
QUEBEC HUMAN RIGHTS BODY ALMOST DISMISSED CASE
Even after the caregivers “filed a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission through PINAY in May 2009, the Commission did little investigation and almost dismissed their case in October 2010” due to the death in September 2009 of their recruiter, identified as John Aurora, a “South Asian” Montreal immigration consultant.
In a phone interview, Ms. Calugay, a retired nurse from Borongan, Samar in Central Philippines who immigrated to Canada in 1975, told this reporter because Aurora’s estate was left in the care of his daughter, Natalie Aurora, and his assistant, Jane Aguilar, a former Filipina caregiver, still working with Montreal-based Super Nanny recruiting agency, the LIC’s thru PINAY went ahead with their lawsuit against Aurora before the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission with the help of CRARR “for discrimination and exploitation committed by other persons associated directly with his (John Aurora’s) agency.”
The caregivers, in a press conference Thursday (March 17), asked Montreal authorities to investigate Aurora and other recruiters for human trafficking as their human rights are being violated while “many public agencies continue to turn a blind eye to these women’s plight year after year.”
They claimed that these public agencies failed to “effectively protect more than 40 women who came to Montreal through contractual arrangements with John Aurora.” Aurora often travelled to Hongkong and the Philippines “with a secretary to often recruit these workers at a fee (on average, these women paid US$4,000 to Aurora and US$1,400 for travel).”
SUBJECTED TO ABUSIVE TREATMENTS
Once landed in Montreal, these women were subjected to abusive treatments in employment and housing, including legal actions filed against them before the Rental Board on the basis of questionable leasing clauses.
For instance, upon arrival in Montreal, many women did not have the LIC job offers they were promised and had paid for before departure from the Philippines. They were never reimbursed by the agency for the lack of job offers.
While they were waiting for the confirmation of a new job offer, they were also asked to work unpaid. While they were asked to sign room rental leases, the caregivers endured substandard living conditions that included sleeping on the floor, overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.
“If you want to see what modern slavery and exploitation of women is all about, just look at us”, said Sylvia, a Filipina who was among the original 26 who filed the civil rights complaint after much hesitation. “We are the face of human trafficking in Canada and we must break the silence.”
“All this time, we thought we could count on the human rights commission for protection, because this is Quebec, this is Canada, after all”, said Jovita, another member of the group of 26. “Summoning a dead man to its office for investigation, as the Commission did, is not serious protection; it’s comic relief. Immigrant women have no justice, obviously.”
Since there are many other LICs aside from the original 26 women who still face similar situations (it is estimated that 700 LICs come to Quebec each year, most of whom from the Philippines), CRARR and PINAY are calling for a series of government actions to end the economic exploitation and violations of Filipina LICs’ civil rights.
ASKED TO PROSECUTE HUMAN TRAFFICKING
They also asked to investigate and prosecute the case as one of human trafficking; more effective protection and enforcement of LICs’ civil rights by the Quebec human rights commission, which may require a special investigation team that possesses the necessary competencies and sensitivity to rapidly investigate such cases; a systemic investigation by the human rights commission of the Rental Board’s handling of all cases involving LICs; reforms to the Quebec Government’s policy and measures involving LICs; and pushing Ottawa (capital of Canada) to ratify the International Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers.
According to PINAY President Evelyn Calugay, “This case will test (Quebec Prime Minister John James “Jean”) Charest’s commitment to civil rights and fair opportunities for one of the most vulnerable groups of women in Quebec, the Filipina Live-in Caregivers. It is about having laws that are not enforced and recourses that don’t work, or worse, recourses that are supposed to protect these women but that actually perpetuate the violations of their civil rights.