Joven Ednalaguim is working hard to build a better life for himself and his family.
He moved from the Philippines to Halifax in 2009 to work for a cousin’s husband, who owned a cleaning business, and to send money back for his parents’ medical bills.
But when he received his first cheque in Canada, he realized he’d been cheated.
“[It was] a nightmare for me and for the other employees,” he said.
The salary Ednalaguim was promised in his contract, $10.60 an hour, turned out to be much lower, roughly $3.13 an hour.
To make up for the shortfall, Joven was forced to work 20-hour days. He says he was so exhausted most days that he couldn’t stay awake to drive. As a result, he claims, he was involved in two car accidents.
“The second time is the snow time. I think I fell asleep a little bit then hit a tree,” Ednalaguim said.
Ednalaguim says that he and his co-workers at the time had very few, if any, days off. Only after Ednalaguim became violently ill did his boss give him a day off.
“I [was] almost dizzy that time and threw [up] some blood, and that’s the time I called him and said: ‘I need a day off,’ and I see the doctor,” he said.
Ednalaguim continued to work under these conditions for four years. This, he wrote in a victim impact statement, was because he “didn’t want to start a family feud.”
Eventually, the group of Filipino cleaners blew the whistle on their employer, Hector Mantolino.
In 2017, four years after he was charged, Mantolino pleaded guilty to paying 28 Filipino workers less than the salary stated on their employment contracts, cheating them out of $500,000.
It turns out that plenty of other employers are breaking the rules, too. A list, published online by the government of Canada, contains 122 violators.
They range from isolated cases in some provinces to a total of 44 employers in Ontario. Many have been fined for pay and working conditions that don’t match what they promised to temporary foreign workers.
“This is something that’s happening right under our noses,” says Elizabeth Wozniak, a Halifax immigration lawyer, who arranged for the Filipinos to get open work permits, allowing them to find new employers.
“There’s an invisible class here of people who clean our offices and take care of our kids and do all the jobs that nobody else wants to do. And then, when they get exploited, we forget to say ‘well, what about them?’”
The Crown is asking Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Glen McDougall to send Mantolino to a federal penitentiary for two years when the judge hands down his sentence on March 1. The defence is asking for a sentence of house arrest.
Ednalagium says he has not been defeated.
He now has permanent resident status and is a franchisee of his own cleaning business. He relishes his spare time spent with his wife and their two-year-old son, Zion.
“I will share my experience [with] him when he grows up so that nobody can treat him bad,” he said.
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