Maple Leaf Foods has shut down a program to import workers from China after discovering that 61 employees at its Brandon, Man., pork processing plant each had to pay a $10,000 fee to get the jobs.
The company said it had no knowledge of the fees and is launching an investigation into the allegations.
A federal government spokesperson said Monday that the Department of Human Resources and Social Development is also looking into the case.
Meanwhile, Maple Leaf said it has terminated its business relationship with the Canadian immigration consultant hired by Maple Leaf to find the workers.
But Sophia Cummings of Vancouver told the Canadian Press on Monday that she did not charge the workers anything and only received money directly from Maple Leaf Foods for her services.
She refused to comment further, saying she’s trying to figure out “who would do such a malicious thing.”
Workers shouldn’t ‘mortgage their future’
The Chinese workers say they were charged the fee, which partly covered English language instruction and training in meat cutting. As a result, many workers are struggling to pay debts related to the fee.
Robert Ziegler, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers local 832, which represents Maple Leaf workers in Brandon, said he hopes the company will repay the 61 affected employees.
“Basically, $10,000 Canadian for these people is like four years’ salary. Can you imagine paying that amount to be in debt? I can’t,” Ziegler said.
“So yes, it’s a commitment, but look at the work environment, look at the living environment. People see the dream and sometimes they’re willing to mortgage their future. I think that’s wrong, and hopefully we can try and stop this and try and make a better life.”
Maple Leaf spokeswoman Linda Kuhn told CBC News on Monday that she is not sure if the employees will receive any restitution.
“The reality is that these people are adults, made a decision to enter into a contract in China that we knew nothing about and we’re not party to,” Kuhn said. “They did receive a fairly significant amount of training, so I think it’s premature to determine exactly what, if anything, is needed from Maple Leaf.”
George Rohulych, a spokesman for the federal Human Resources and Social Development Department, said Monday that it has asked Maple Leaf to be “more hands-on in the recruitment process overseas,” which they’ve agreed to do, he said.
Rohulych added that the government has also asked Maple Leaf to inform any of its potential workers that they’re recruiting that they don’t require services of a third party, such as a consultant or placement agency, to be considered for jobs in this country.
Maple Leaf has recruited abroad for years, particularly in Mexico and El Salvador, partly because of the widespread labour shortage in Western Canada. Employees at the Brandon facility are paid a starting salary of about $13 to $15 an hour, depending on experience, for various kinds of work, the union said.
$10K fees ‘exorbitant:’ consultants’ society
John Ryan, chairman of the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants, which regulates immigration consultants, said $10,000 fees for prospective workers are “exorbitant.”
He also said it is not right for a consultant to be acting for both the employer and employee but added that would-be immigrants would rather pay a premium to emigrate than wait years for overseas work through the federal government’s skilled worker program.
“When someone comes and offers you an option—‘listen, you know, come under this program, we can get you … a skilled job working as a meat cutter in a plant in Manitoba, and we can do it in six months to a year’—you choose,” Ryan said.
“Are you going to wait the four to six years to emigrate? Or are you going to choose the quicker and the faster [option] and pay the premium?”