$195,000 Claim Highlights Rampant Exploitation of Migrant Employees

Exploitation of Migrant Employees -- African Woman Staring Desparingly out a Window

Even in this developed nation with laws governing employment and labour, shocking abuses still occur. One of the most common areas of exploitation is domestic caregiving, an industry employing many migrant workers.

One notable case has surfaced involving a $195,000 claim filed by 24 year old Ugandan nanny, Lilliane Namukasa. She came to Canada in 2008 under Canada’s Live-In Caregiver Program which allows domestic workers to apply for immigration after two years of live-in service with a host employer. In some cases, such immigration hopes can be used by employers to perpetrate workplace mistreatment.

Blatant Breach of Employment Contract?

According to Namukasa, her original employment contract offered $430 per week, less $55 for room and board. She was also promised $17 for each hour of overtime worked. Upon her arrival, however, Namukasa claims that she was forced to clean her Brampton employer’s home and care for the children for almost 16 hours a day, with no vacation pay, no days off, and no holidays. All for a mere $100 per month. She also claims that her employer took away her passport and work permit.

When Namukasa became informed of her rights, and broached the topic with her employer, she claims that her employer imposed further sanctions, including prohibiting her from using the phone, threatening to call Immigration Canada, and eventually firing her in March 2010.

Isolated and alone in the country, Namukasa was forced to live in a women’s shelter. She is now suing for over $195,000 for breach of contract, unpaid wages, overtime and holiday pay, and wrongful dismissal. Her employer has yet to file a statement of defence.

Points to Note

If Namukasa’s claims are proved true, the case could be a worrisome reminder that employment abuses still occur in Canada. Unfortunately, migrant workers are often unaware of their rights as employees and may endure blatant exploitation and mistreatment to avoid jeopardizing their chances of eventually immigrating into the country.

However, as exploited workers become more informed of their rights and utilize legal resources to secure their entitlements, their employers may find themselves on the receiving end of a high-stakes claim for wrongful dismissal and breach of contract.

While the Ontario government has set up a hotline specifically for caregivers who suspect they are being exploited, Toronto’s Workers’ Action Centre is calling for further action by the government and will be holding a news conference at Queen’s Park in Toronto to highlight Namukasa’s case.

Minken Employment Lawyers is your source for expert advice and advocacy on today’s employment law issues.

For more details on the story, see: CBC News (Nanny sues boss for $195K over ‘wage theft’,  May 29, 2011).

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