Pinoy groups helping TFWs, migrant workers in pandemic
Pinoy groups helping TFWs, migrant workers in pandemic
April 5, 2021
By Veronica Silva Cusi
The Philippine Reporter
Some kababayans from Ontario and New Brunswick are helping temporary foreign workers (TFWs) who may not be qualified for government relief programs during the COVID-19 pandemic. They are partners of a government-funded program spearheaded by KAIROS, a social justice group of Canadian churches and religious organizations.
In Ontario, the efforts are mainly led by Migrant Resource Centre Canada (MRCC) based in Toronto. Meanwhile, the Filipino-Canadian CommUNITY of New Brunswick (FCNB) is helping out in the Maritimes. Our kababayans are reaching out to as many TFWs as they can, regardless of country of origin.
They join more than 10 other partner-organizations of KAIROS for the $2.1 million project to empowering TFWs with a focus on the agriculture sector.
“The emphasis [of the project] is on essential work of agriculture workers particularly in ensuring food security in Canada,” said Connie Sorio, KAIROS Canada’s Migrant Justice Coordinator, in an interview with The Philippine Reporter. “But it does not preclude us from including support to migrant workers in other sectors.”
Project partners all over Canada are customizing project components – from outreach to information sessions, and case work and assistance — according to the needs of the regions or communities.
“In fact, that’s the strength of the project – we try to focus as much ground as possible. The objective really is to highlight the plight of foreign workers in different sectors,” added Sorio.
According to Statistics Canada, TFWs “have become an important source of labour supply in Canada.” In 2019, about 470,000 foreign nationals have a work permit compared to 340,000 in 2017 and 390,000 in 2018.
“The agriculture sector is highly dependent on TFWs. [They] account for 20% of total employment in this sector …,” according to 2017 data. They accounted for 41.6% of the agricultural workers in Ontario.
Advocates for migrant workers have noted that TFWs have been left out of some COVID-19 supports that require a valid social insurance number (SIN), work permit or other legal status. Along with millions of Canadians who have lost their work due to the pandemic, some TFWs have lost their status and consequently also other benefits, such as health care, which is tied to their work permits.
Governments – federal and provincial – have stepped up to help the TFWs with initiatives such as exemptions from travel restrictions, extending work permits, and transitioning to visitor visas. However, some still argue that only “full and permanent status for all” can ensure that no one is left behind.
KAIROS is the migrant worker support organization that the federal government has funded to lend support to TFWs in Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Northwest Territories.
Different partners of KAIROS have different target audience and strategies to reach them. In Ontario, the focus is on the urban TFWs, a few agricultural workers, especially north and west of the province, and undocumented workers, said Mithi Esguerra, program coordinator of Migrant Resource Center Canada (MRCC) based in the west end of Toronto. In New Brunswick, the target TFWs are mostly in fishing, aquaculture, trucking, hospitality, and restaurant sectors, said Jesabel Amora, FCNB project coordinator.
As to strategies to reach out to their target beneficiaries, what is common are giving out care kits that include face masks, hand sanitizers and soap; taking on case work; and hosting information sessions or webinars. For New Brunswick, TFWs are receiving some groceries, such as noodles and protein bars; and other personal items, such as socks and towels. For MRCC targets, they are allocating a few kits with baby care items. The strategies are based on needs analysis and consultations with their target audience and/or existing partners or networks.
The information sessions aim to educate TFWs about their rights. Case work also involves education on a one-on-one basis as it includes referring TFWs to other community organizations providing in-depth services, such as legal.
FCNB is also reaching out to employers to get to TFWs. This is aside from door-to-door outreach, said Alpha Behera, FCNB assistant project coordinator. In their outreach activities, FCNB also tries to collect more information from TFWs, employers and communities as to the needs of TFWs.
Sorio said rare case-by-case situations allow KAIROS to give cash for rent payments, but the money is directly paid to the landlord. In this case, TFWs will have more money in their pockets to buy groceries or remit to their families back home.
FCNB president Gina Moreno said her team has already conducted outreach in the southeastern and northeastern outskirts of New Brunswick, such as where there is lobster farming: Cap-Pelé, Shediac, Richibucto, Miramichi, Grande-Digue and Petit Cap. Next stops are cities and towns farther north: Bathurst, Campbeltown and Tracadie. These areas were selected based on their preliminary needs analysis, existing partnerships and COVID-19 restrictions.
FCNB is targeting 500 TFWs for the project. However, they said they might exceed their target as they noted that there may be more TFWs in the province needing help.
Roland Moreno, FCNB board member, said the project also tries to identify gaps where TFWs need help. One of these identified gaps is that some TFWs need to travel to Ottawa, Ontario to have their passports renewed to be able to obtain a work permit.
Esguerra said their collaboration with KAIROS, dubbed as Community Action and Response for Empowerment (CARE), includes giving out CARE packs that include PPE and self-care products, case work, and workshops or information sessions via webinars.
“We took this opportunity [to work with KAIROS on this project] to help us continue or do on a larger scale what is already the core mandate of MRCC,” she said. For example, case work and workshops are already programs of MRCC under the information and referral, and education and training. With the KAIROS project, they can take on more clients.
Whatever TFWs can save from supplies provided from the CARE kits, they can use to pay for rent or remit to their families back home, said Esguerra.
MRCC’s Esguerra said most of their clients are undocumented workers who have lost status even before COVID-19. Most are from the Philippines. With no status, they can’t access COVID-19 relief both from the Canadian government and their country’s governments.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions – Ontario is under a 28-day emergency brake order from April 3 — MRCC can remotely serve a few agricultural workers for case work assistance on issues on labour rights, health and safety in the workplace, and more, and online workshops. Esguerra said they can reach out to these TFWs through partnerships with grassroots organizations in remote areas.
The project has been running from February and is expected to wrap up by June. The webinars or workshops are expected to kick off this month, said both FCNB and MRCC. Though the project is short-term and the fact the pandemic is still ongoing, partners are looking forward to expand the project to be able to serve more TFWs they continue to identify.
KAIROS said there is also no let-up of its advocacy for migrant rights. KAIROS is among more than 400 organizations that are signatories in the Migrant Rights Network’s call for status for all.
Veronica Silva Cusi is a multimedia journalist and researcher with more than two decades of experience. She was a business journalist (editor and researcher) for 12 years with BusinessWorld in the Philippines and a journalism university lecturer for 14 years at University of the Philippines. She also worked as editor and reporter in Singapore before migrating to Canada. Some media she has worked for include Computerworld Philippines, Singapore/Malaysia, and The Filipino Channel (North America). She’s been covering ethnic media in the GTA for more than a decade now. Veronica holds two master’s degrees — Communication Research from the University of the Philippines and journalism from Ryerson University. You can follow her on Twitter @VSilvaCusi.