Labour Exploitation & Trafficking in BC
What is Labour Exploitation?
Labour exploitation occurs when employers treat workers in ways that break the law. This includes treatment that is against workers’ legal rights, such as:
- Employments Standards rights around wages and working conditions.
- WorkSafeBC rights to a safe and healthy workplace
- Human Rights Code rights to be treated without discrimination or harassment.
- Negotiated rights in employment contracts.
What is Labour Trafficking?
Labour trafficking is a type of human trafficking. Human trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, or harbouring of persons for the purpose of exploitation.
Labour trafficking happens when workers are coerced or controlled by methods such as deception, fraud, and abuse of power to force them to perform labour or services.
- The force labour traffickers use is not always physical. For example, labour traffickers may use lies and threats about a worker’s immigration status to make the person feel like they have no choice but to keep working in exploitative conditions.
- Labour trafficking can happen in different types of employment.
- There are organizations that can help trafficked workers.
In Canada, human trafficking is illegal under sections 279.01 – 279.04 of the Criminal Code and section 118 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
Who does Labour Trafficking affect?
Labour trafficking can happen in many different employment settings, including restaurants and other service industries, manufacturing, agricultural or construction work, as well as in caregiving and domestic work.
Trafficking of migrant workers:
- Migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to labour trafficking. Limited language skills, social isolation, fears about immigration status, and little knowledge of Canada’s immigration, employment and human rights laws can make migrant workers easy targets for traffickers.
- Temporary foreign workers might also have been forced to borrow money and go into debt to pay illegal recruitment fees to get work in Canada. They may also have an immigration status that ties them to a specific employer, or be unable to access permanent residence status. These factors make foreign workers more reliant on recruiters or employers and more vulnerable to labour exploitation and trafficking.
Often, migrant workers pay thousands of dollars in illegal placement fees to “employment agencies” that broker their employment in Canada. Many workers arrive only to learn that they have no job in Canada or that the job is different from the one they agreed to.
What does Labour Trafficking look like?
Signs of labour trafficking:
The person is:
- Underpaid, not paid at all, or wages are deducted unjustifiably
- Working excessive days or hours, forced to work overtime, or has no breaks
- Forced to engage in duties outside the employment contract
- Charged high, fraudulent recruitment fees to secure employment in Canada
- Living in substandard conditions with little or no privacy
- Not able to access personal identification documents (passport, work permit)
- Not working in the job promised, or was lured to Canada with a false job offer
- Exposed to violence, including sexual assault, or threats of violence or harm
- Abused emotionally or psychologically
How to Get Help
If you know or suspect that you, or someone you know, are in an abusive or exploitative situation, there is help available. Our office works in partnership with other agencies to ensure that all of the needs of workers are met through wraparound support. Our office can help workers through free legal services for their legal needs, including advice on immigration status, employment standards and civil complaints. We can also provide referrals for other support services, such as housing and health care.
It is important to note that support is available to all workers who are in exploitative situations, even individuals that do not have valid work permits or other identification documents.
Contact the Migrant Workers Centre at 604-669-4482 or toll free at 1-888-669-4482.
For after hours assistance:
Provides simultaneous translation and interpretation 24 hours a day/7 days a week
The Salvation Army’s Illuminate
“Labour Exploitation & Trafficking Handbook for Migrant Workers” is a resource developed by Migrant Workers Centre in 2018.
“Modern Day Slavery: Combating the Exploitation and Trafficking of Foreign Workers in Our Communities” is a pamphlet developed by WCDWA and MOSAIC, an immigrant settlement agency, in 2011 to raise awareness and assist foreign workers who may be trafficked.
“Do you feel trapped?” is a poster developed by WCDWA and BC’s Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons in 2013 to raise awareness about help available for foreign workers trafficked for domestic servitude.
“Human Trafficking in Canada” is a publication developed by People’s Law School in 2010 on the law’s response to human trafficking in Canada.
“Hidden in Plain Sight: Labour Trafficking and Migrant Workers in Canada” is a short documentary launched by WCDWA in 2017 that explores labour trafficking in Canada. It features interviews with survivors of labour trafficking, community service workers, and legal experts.
“End Labour Trafficking” is a one-minute Public Service Announcement video released by WCDWA in 2015 to raise awareness about labour trafficking.