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