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Precarious jobs on the rise

June 24, 2024
Image: - Four people sitting on stage on red couches during a panel discussion. The moderator is sitting on the right. Blue flags with the Métallos logo appear in the background, and another flag appears on the left with indigenous symbols.

Temporary Foreign Worker Program

The number of temporary foreign workers (TFWs) in Quebec has increased eight-fold since 2017, from 7,180 to 59,000 in June 2023.

Previously concentrated in seasonal, agricultural work, TFWs now occupy year-round jobs across numerous sectors. Their permits are tied to a single employer and they often live apart from their families back home.

Most dream of settling in Quebec, but the pathway to permanent immigration is difficult.

“In theory, they have the same rights, but that’s not their reality,” points out Sarah R. Champagne, a journalist with Le Devoir newspaper. A TFW’s work permit is tied to a single employer, and must be regularly renewed, noted Champagne, who spoke on this issue during a roundtable discussion at the last annual meeting of USW District 5 activists.

Another major issue for TFWs is the shortcomings of the francization process, which is essential for immigration in Quebec, USW delegates heard.

“French courses should be given to workers on the job, and the government should pay for the wages,” said Michel Pilon, director of a non-profit agency providing support to TFWs.

The level of French fluency required for immigration is extremely difficult for many TFWs to achieve, said delegate Ronald Carvajal, a USW Local 9599 activist.

“I know a worker who took the test eight times before passing, at a cost of $300 each time,” Carvajal said.

Such daunting challenges are facing some 200 Filipino TFWs working at the Chantiers Chibougamau sawmill and wood manufacturing operations in the Nord-du-Québec region, said USW local union activist David Morin.

“The Filipinos understand the path to immigration requires clearing the hurdle of francization,” which is overwhelming, said Morin. “Are they to remain temporary workers until retirement – is that the plan?” he asked.

Kamil Nounes, a temporary foreign worker at the Exo-S manufacturing plant in the Sherbrooke area, spoke of the extreme precariousness in which his family lives. His engineer wife is not allowed to work due to her visitor status and his family does not have full health-care coverage.

“If my daughter is sick, I can’t take her to hospital unless I pay. If there’s no overtime available, I’m really squeezed. And if I get laid off, I don’t know if I’ll be eligible for employment insurance,” said the Algerian-born worker.

This article appeared in the Summer 2024 issue of USW@Work magazine.

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