Habiba Zaman

New B.C. immigrants stuck in low-paying jobs: study

December 17, 2007

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They come here for a better life. But many women emigrating to B.C. from the Philippines are stuck in low-paying jobs with little protection of their workplace rights, according to a new study co-authored by SFU women’s studies associate professor, Habiba Zaman, for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Zaman (above) and fellow researcher Cecilia Diocson, executive director of the National Alliance of Philippine Women in Canada, found that the women – many of them highly educated – often receive insufficient training, work in unsafe conditions and get paid below minimum wage.

The study, Workplace Rights for Immigrants in BC: The Case of Filipino Workers, also finds that the Employment Standards Act (ESA) is rarely enforced. Many of the study’s interviewees had experienced ESA violations.

But none of them made use of a self-help kit, their only way of reporting violations to the Ministry of Labour and Citizens’ Services, as the kit is only available in English.

“The provincial government’s rollback of employment standards in 2002 means that many basic employment rights now exist only as ‘paper-rights’, particularly for recent immigrants,” says Zaman.

“If no one has informed you of your rights and no one is actively enforcing them, how can you enjoy the protections that are supposed to exist for all workers in B.C.?”
The researchers blame the Liberal government for enabling employers to exploit new immigrants when it rolled back employment standards after it was elected five years ago.

To help alleviate the situation, the study recommends:
•    Eliminating the $6 hourly first-job wage and increasing the hourly minimum wage to $10.
•    Instituting proactive monitoring teams to investigate employment standards and WorkSafe abuses and increasing penalties for violations.
•    Eliminating the “self-help kit” and allowing workers to bring workplace violation complaints directly to the Employment Standards Branch.
•    Increasing public education about employment standards through information sessions, translating the standards into appropriate languages and requiring that that employee rights are posted at workplaces.

The study is part of the Economic Security Project, a joint research initiative of the CCPA and SFU, funded primarily by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).
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