Why do immigrant business owners exploit their own communities?

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Pradip Rodrigues

Every now and again there are cases in the news about foreign temporary workers or foreign students being exploited by their ‘Canadian’ employers. The employer is usually fined, the authorities scold and remind them that no one should be exploited in Canada, but there is scant evidence that the lesson is learnt by employers, most of whom are invariably of ethnic origin running some small labour-intensive business-like restaurants and warehouses.

What is usually missing in these stories is the link between employer and his or her exploited employees- they all usually belong to the same ethnicity.

Such was the case earlier this month in Halifax where a judge handed down a two-year prison sentence to a Halifax businessman who had earlier pleaded guilty of exploiting foreign workers.
Mantolino, a Filipino who owned several cleaning and maintenance companies, used the foreign worker program to bring 28 workers to Canada from the Philippines over a number of years.
According to a statement of agreed facts, Mantolino paid them at least $500,000 less than their total reported salaries. Many of them were paid as little as $3.13 per hour after various deductions. To many new immigrants, this is nothing new and definitely not shocking, they’ve seen, heard or experienced such exploitation themselves.

There are many such heartbreaking stories, most of which will never be heard because the exploited workers view it as the price they pay to gain permanent residency in Canada and happens to be the case in North America, Europe and in countries like Australia and New Zealand.

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Last year, the CBC reported that four migrant workers from India faced harsh living conditions and were drastically underpaid as sculptors at a Hindu temple in Toronto. Their exploiter happened to be a man of God no less- the Temple Priest.

By day, the men sculpted and painted one of the most holy parts of the temple, by night they would languish in the basement of the building, sleeping on cots by the boiler.

‘It’s slavery in the modern world,’ is how a spokesperson for the Tamil Workers Network Temporary Foreign Worker permit holders described it.

Exploitation is not discriminatory, anyone can be exploited like this Sikh priest in New Zealand. Recently there was a media report about Kultar Singh, a Sikh priest who alleged that he had been exploited by his former employer, the Sikh Sangat NZ Trust. The charges are all too familiar- he claimed he was grossly underpaid, made to live in cell-like conditions at a Rotorua temple, denied annual leave to visit his wife in India, and then adding insult to injury, he was fired over a falsified affair with a married temple-goer.

Kultar Singh, meanwhile, has filed a police complaint against the trust’s founder and secretary alleging they had made threats on his life.

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Exploitation is a theme across continents. A couple of years ago in Lisbon, Portugal I spoke to young Bangladeshi migrants who worked 12 to 14 hours a day, 7 days a week for their Bangladeshi employers at a really low wage. In exchange for their long hours, they received ‘free’ boarding in a room filled with six others. They had no choice because they didn’t know enough Portuguese or English to be hired by mainstream businesses and needed the job until they got papers that let them work in other countries on the continent. These young men envied employees at Portuguese businesses and yearned to work for a ‘real’ Portuguese employer who would give them their mandated days off, fair wages and most of all respect.

There are over 300,000 temporary foreign workers across Canada and a similar number of international students, most of whom work full or part-time. These are employees who are most vulnerable to being exploited by their employers.

If they have a weak grasp of English, which often is the case, or they are looking to work for cash under the table, they invariably head over to an employer who looks like them, speaks their language and is willing to bend the law in exchange for cheap labour.

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I met one international student from India recently who attends college and also works 30 to 40 hours for an Indian employer at $9 an hour! He can’t wait for the day he gets employed by a ‘gora’ company where he will get paid a fair salary along with benefits. At the end of the day, immigrants are still dependent upon the white man to provide fair wages.

Across the western world, very often South Asian businessowners factor in the fact they can get away with paying their employees miserable wages or downright exploiting them like slaves. The laws are weak, poorly enforced and most crucially, few if any employees will risk their time or effort trying to bring these conscience-free employers to justice.

Many international students from India now working for desi employers are understandably bitter at the way they are exploited. Most of them will never complain as they need the work or letters to support their case for permanent residency.

As long as there is immigration and desperate immigrants who will do anything for the chance to live in Canada, there will be exploitation. Slavery in the first world is alive and well, reparations will be due in about a hundred years if not an official apology from the future Canadian Prime Minister. -CINEWS

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