Temporary worker’s mental health worsens after time at N.B. fish plant

    When Francisco Javier Montaño de Dios came to Canada on April 23, he had one objective — to send money back to his wife and six-year-old son in Mexico. 

    Now, he said he is stuck in New Brunswick with two other temporary workers who stayed from a group of 80. The company they worked for is LeBreton Fisheries, which was already fined $30,000 last year after a violation for failing to protect their temporary workers. 

    Montaño de Dios said that while his contract ensured six months of work, the company sent the temporary workers a termination letter two months before their contract ended. 

    “They told the rest of the Mexicans that if we don’t sign, we won’t be selected to work for next year’s season,” said Montaño de Dios in an interview in Spanish. 

    “Under those threats, many of my colleagues decided to sign.”

    Some of Montaño de Dios’ coworkers didn’t sign immediately and instead chose him to speak to one of the owners, Kathlin LeBreton. In the conversation, LeBreton allegedly told him that the company was facing financial struggle. 

    Kathlin Lebreton and LeBreton Fisheries were contacted for an interview several times but did not provide one. The Aquinian checked with the Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy Canada (OSB) and found that LeBreton Fisheries, by their name in French Pêcheries LeBreton, did not appear to have filed for bankruptcy.

    Montaño de Dios said he spoke to migrant organizations to get help obtaining a new work permit, as the one he came with tied him exclusively to one company.

    “I got a job thanks to God,” he said. “But this is still all too hard on me. I haven’t been able to see my kid and it hurts so much thinking that he is growing up in my absence.”

    He said the situation has sent him into a deep depression.

    Niger Saravia Arevalo, an organizer with Migrant Workers Alliance for Change and a fellow immigrant from El Salvador, received complaints in mid-July from this particular group of workers. 

    “Workers contacted me saying they were starving because they were not working and they were receiving mistreatment from the employer,” he said. 

    Saravia Arevalo mentioned that despite the fine LeBreton received for a violation last year and being under scrutiny for not protecting their workers, they were still able to bring 80 temporary workers this year. To him, this only shows the lack of care temporary workers face from the government. 

    He added that even if LeBreton pays the fine, it would not go towards the temporary workers.

    “Migrant workers are being exploited by the employers because they lack permanent resident status. The big issue here is that, without permanent resident status, migrant workers cannot assert their rights,” he said. 

    He called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to give permanent residence to all migrant workers and students, a campaign promise the prime minister made back in December 2021. 

    “People are getting deported. People are getting evicted from their houses. People are being abused,” he said. “Migrant workers are the ones who live in their communities. They support this economy. And it’s not fair that the government is treating all these migrant workers as second-class citizens.”

    Ratna Omidvar, independent Ontario senator and chair of the Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, visited N.B. and Prince Edward Island with her committee to check on temporary workers, employers and migrant activists. She told SaltWire on Sept. 22 that her main takeaway from the trip was that the temporary foreign worker program is “not fit for purpose anymore.”

    “In Canada, we should be able to talk and chew gum at the same time. We should be able to have a steady supply of labour, but we should also be able to protect the workers’ rights as they are available for other workers,” said Omidvar.