Labrador City women speaks in support of foreign workers

Ty Dunham
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Advocate says her own experience proved the value of the program

A Labrador City woman who advocates for the disabled is now speaking out in support of the much-maligned temporary foreign workers program.

Merides Casio (left) Sylvia Mackey and Lucille Cala-Or (right) have become like family after the temporary foreign worker program brought them together to work with Mackey’s late daughter, Jennifer. Mackey says the workers deserve to be in the country just as much as she does.

Sylvia Mackey and her husband Leonard were in desperate need of support workers to help care for their disabled daughter, Jennifer, who passed away in December at the age of 34.

After many months of exhaustively seeking help in this country, Sylvia was forced to quit work in 2011 when she was unable to find interested applicants.  

Seeing that many restaurants in town were hiring temporary foreign workers, primarily from the Philippines, Sylvia was inspired to apply for a labour market opinion (LMO) to determine if she was eligible to hire foreign workers.

In the meantime, she continued to post job advertisements locally and across Canada. She was able to get a couple of Canadian workers, but they didn’t stay long.  

Finally, after waiting six months for the paperwork, Lucille Cala-Or and Merides Casio left their jobs in New Brunswick to care for Jennifer for $12.74 an hour.

During a wide ranging and emotional interview at her home this week, Sylvia wiped away tears as she described the two young ladies and the Temporary Foreign Workers Program as a godsend.  

“Their job was very demanding. My daughter couldn’t talk, she needed to be fed, she needed 24-hour care. They had to get her up, bathe her, feed her, dress her for the day. Make sure the place was tidy and clean. Their job was not easy. When she was diagnosed with cancer that was another responsibility.” 

Casio said the same about the Mackey family.  

“It was like a second family with them. We’re away from our family, so they became family.”


Program freeze


But not every temporary foreign worker has felt the warm hospitality akin to what Sylvia shared, and many are wondering what their future holds.

After a few employers made headlines abusing the program, thousands of temporary foreign workers across the country are stuck in the midst of renewing work permits due to an abrupt moratorium on the fast food industry set by Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney recently.  

Although the freeze was meant to keep employers from bringing in new workers, it subsequently suspended employees already working in the country from applying to renew their permits. 

Now unable to get another job and facing the possibility of leaving a country many believed would embrace their willingness to work hard on their way toward citizenship, they are left wondering what will happen next.  

Canadians, too, are left wondering. Some say the program should be shut down entirely, blaming the foreign workers for “stealing” Canadian jobs, while others suggest that the government should revamp the system. 


Same goals


Permanent residency is the ultimate goal of most temporary foreign workers, including Casio and Cala-Or, who have both made tremendous sacrifices by moving away from their loved ones to find stable income to support them. 

“We work hard because of our families,” Casio said. “We’re sending money to our parents every month. We came here because of them.”

It hasn’t been easy, she added. 

“I haven’t seen family for five years; I use Skype (Internet videoconferencing). They ask me when I will go home, and I tell them as soon as I get my permanent residency I will go home to visit them.”

Casio and Cala-Or are among several hundred temporary foreign workers who have found employment in Labrador West in recent years.

Sylvia can relate to the sacrifices many Filipinos are making, recalling when she moved to Labrador City 40-plus years ago, she earned $1.25 an hour in a convenience store and sent half the money back to her parents in Hodge’s Cove, Trinity Bay.  

“When all of us Newfoundlanders came to work with IOC when it started up, we only came here to make some big bucks and go home.” 

She also challenged the argument that Filipinos aren’t spending money locally. 

“They have cars, cars need gas. Some have houses, which need upkeep. They need to eat and buy groceries. Do you think they go to the Philippines and bring their groceries back? Come on, boys.” 

Sylvia has been vocal about her thoughts on people who disagree with the placement of temporary foreign workers, citing her futile attempts to attract Canadian employees

“I think all these people out there being negative, they don’t have anything else to do. I truly believe — and you don’t know how many advertisements went into the newspapers or CRRS or online in (Jennifer’s) life — if all these Canadians want these jobs, why aren’t they applying for it?”

Jennifer, who passed away in December from breast cancer, lived a full life, her mother said.

She thanked Casio and Cala-Or, as well as a Canadian worker she was able to hire in the last few months, for Jennifer’s comfort up to the last days of her life. 

“I don’t think Jennifer would have had the quality of life she deserved and got without them. This is why I think it should be known that people who are following the rules set out by the government should not be punished because someone else broke the rules.” 

As the government works on the program and Canadians debate what should be done, Sylvia stands strong in her loyalty to her friends, her family.

“I believe the temporary foreign workers should be given the same chance as everybody else and shouldn’t be judged because someone else screwed up.”

Geographic location: Labrador, Philippines, Canada New Brunswick Labrador West Hodge Trinity Bay

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Recent comments

  • Hire Canadian
    May 07, 2014 - 12:13

    Usually I will post about employers preferring, not needing foreign workers. Sylvia Mackey obviously had great need for the Live In Caregiver program and it worked well for her and her husband. That is the reason the program is in place and Government have said from the start that the Live in Caregiver program has not been affected by the service sector moratorium. The MacKey's properly hired not just one, but two caregivers so their daughter could have constant care without burning out the helpers. Where it gets murky is the complaint by a Saskatchewan farmer who says she needs a caregiver for her five school age children living on an isolated farm in remote Saskatchewan. The readers comments in this story tell a different side of a story that has all the potential of abuse of the caregiver. I agree with the government's closing down the service sectors to ensure Canadians are considered first. Who could have guessed that as soon as the moratorium was announced McDonalds and Time Hortons suddenly found a pool of Canadian youth willing to work in those jobs? Who knew? Good luck to the Mackeys.

  • Natasha Parsons
    May 07, 2014 - 07:55

    I agree with Sylvia 100%! Foreign workers are taking the jobs that Canadians or at least the people living in our towns don't want. Restaurants in our area were at risk of closing down and had to reduce hours of operation, while others suffered in good customer service due to a shortage of workers. Obviously, there was a great need! We also need to look at the other side of the coin. The people coming to work in our country are able to help their families who are back home where money is very hard to come by. It's a win-win situation! Since the foreign workers arrived in Labrador City I have seen restaurants go from extremely dysfunctional to extremely efficient. The customer service is amazing and friendly. We have also been exposed to new cultures and traditions! In my eyes, they are just as much a part of my community as I am and I am very grateful that our town has all these new citizens.

  • rose
    May 07, 2014 - 05:33

    Thank you for appreciating and support for all tfw .. we hope that the minister kenney will decide ASAP because all of tfw was felt depress... my 2 friends are lucky to have an employer like you.. god bless..

  • Mike
    May 07, 2014 - 01:38

    While yes when it comes to disabled people, family members that need help from the temporary foreign workers I have no problem with. The major problem however is how some in big business have put from making a profit to now pure greed and that's how problems happen and now the government is trying to send a message that it's not going to be tolerated which I can understand up to a certain point, however if the program had been better monitored things might have turned about better. There's another part to the temporary foreign workers and the problem is that many in big business come up with so many excuses why they need the temporary foreign workers program when they should be paying Canadians a normal salary they can live on and those jobs that need skills then train Canadians to be able to do the job. Not all but in too many cases I see it as big business looking for cheap foreign labor rather then to put the country first of paying hard working Canadians a decent salary they can live on and that's where the federal government needs to crack down on. I forgot exactly where but I remember hearing a news report that despite the fact that big business are to hire Canadians first isn't always happening and government needs to level the playing field giving all Canadians a fair chance and make sure big business plays by the rules. It's also a shame how some of the workers in the temporary foreign workers program have been treated so terrible.

  • Jackie
    May 06, 2014 - 23:49

    Mrs P. Life is temporary. Canada has what 31 million people? Also this whole visa and passport thing is not that old to our system. I wish a lot of canadians were temporary because they make our society hell on earth. People are people wherever you come from. You think that if people from the philippines or china recieved fair treament and pay they would come to canada? No. And guess who is exploiting these people with our companies so we can buy cheap goods? Us. Are they our slaves? Is this african slavery all over again? Seriously. Hundreds of years ago there was no such thing as canada. We stole the land from Natives and slaughtered, raped and forced them out. We were the ones who started the abuse not temporary foriegn workers.

  • Sylvia a Mackey
    May 06, 2014 - 20:26

    Well why aren't people from other complaining about Canadian going to there country and become citizens of there country which ever one they choose to go . What about the people going and becoming citizens of the states bad who know whe else that is happening so why can't we accept people as Canadian citizens. There are all welcome here as far as I'm concern . They are pleasant happy caring people more then I can say for some of the Canadians.

  • Aubrey
    May 06, 2014 - 17:28

    I have known Sylvia Mackey, for quite a number of years and her daughter and I agree with every single word she has said; The Filipinos deserve the same rights and privilege as anyone else! They are great workers and very pleasant people

    • Matt
      May 07, 2014 - 10:35

      Mrs. Mackey exploited the system just like many other corporations have. ``“Their job was very demanding. My daughter couldn’t talk, she needed to be fed, she needed 24-hour care. They had to get her up, bathe her, feed her, dress her for the day. Make sure the place was tidy and clean. Their job was not easy. When she was diagnosed with cancer that was another responsibility.” `` All that for $12.75 an hour. It`s no wonder she couldn`t find any Canadian willing to do the job.

    • Mr. M&M
      May 08, 2014 - 14:34

      Hey Matt... Exploited... you may want to re-read the article, maybe check the dictionary on the meaning of exploited, but to say she exploited the system you are being not only ignorant, but rude. Mrs. Mackey has been fighting for several years to have the wages increased for support workers, for the very reasons that she mentioned in her interview... the demands of the job are worth far more than the wage they are paid. However, at the end of the day, she had a daughter that needed care and any caring parent or individual would have done the same thing when dealing with the welfare of a person.

  • Mrs. P
    May 06, 2014 - 15:00

    Every time I read one of these articles, whether here or anywhere else, the TFW always say "as soon as I get my permanent residency", or, "I'm going to bring my family over". And this is is not abusing the program? It's called TEMPORARY for a reason.

    • Mr. M&M
      May 06, 2014 - 20:39

      Yes Mrs. P Temporary Meaning, till they can become permanent, and if possible a citizen... Where do you think we all came from? Oh right, on the other side of the ocean like many of these wonderful people!