A Halifax agency that supports migrant workers says more needs to be done after Nova Scotia's Labour Department issued an order and a warning to the Keltic Lodge in Ingonish, N.S., after a temporary foreign worker's complaint about mould in the staff residence and bugs in the food.
The department ordered the resort to create an occupational health and safety plan. It also issued a warning to have a joint occupational health and safety committee of management and staff in place by Oct. 20.
Stacey Gomez, manager of the migrant worker program with No One Is Illegal, said that's not enough.
"I do believe that it's the minimum and that there does need to be more done," she said. "This doesn't send a good message to other migrant workers who may be in unsafe living and working conditions."
Jeff Dolan, Nova Scotia Labour's acting senior executive director of safety, said the department sent investigators to the Cape Breton resort two weeks after receiving a complaint from Orlando Rosas, a worker from Mexico, but did not say whether the lack of any evidence of mould or odour was a result of the delay.
"The concern that was communicated by the worker was taken very seriously," he said. "When [inspectors] responded, they made sure they responded with the right people."
Inspection 2 weeks after complaint
The department also recommended the employer assess areas known to be impacted by water and fix them, if necessary.
Dolan said because of the suggestion of mould, a safety officer in Cape Breton had to wait to co-ordinate a visit with an occupational hygienist, who was in Halifax. He said that's why they arrived at the resort two weeks after the complaint.
At the time, Rosas said the staff residence was often damp. He took pictures of mould growing on his clothes and on residence walls, and items in the laundry room.
He also said his cousin got so sick with pneumonia he had to go home to Mexico.
Dolan said the department did not inspect the residence as a whole, but did look at the laundry room and a staff bedroom that shared a wall with the laundry room.
Investigators also inspected the basement of the main lodge and a kitchen and restaurant nearby.
Orlando Rosas says he battled mould for weeks, with black mould showing up on a detergent jug in the laundry room and green mould on his jeans and other clothing in his bedroom. (Submitted by Orlando Rosas)
Dolan said Nova Scotia Labour did not investigate Rosas's complaints about mould in the living quarters because the department's jurisdiction only covers workplaces.
However, the Environment Department was alerted, he said.
"We take the approach that if they contact one department in government, they're contacting all of government, so if a concern had come to us or come to the employer to us about this, even though it may not fall under our jurisdiction, we have a responsibility to make sure that the proper departments know about it."
In an email, the Department of Environment said it does not inspect places where people live. The department said if a home is rented, that would be a residential tenancies issue.
Stacey Gomez of No One Is Illegal Halifax says the province needs to do more to protect migrant workers, including making unannounced inspections of workplaces. (Brian Mackay/CBC)
Service Nova Scotia, which administers the residential tenancies legislation, said all workers who pay their employer for accommodations are covered by the law and can apply for dispute resolution and can contact the local municipality to request a building inspection.
Nova Scotia Labour doesn't just wait for complaints and does make unannounced inspections, Dolan said.
"Later this year, we do have engagements planned with a focus on temporary foreign workers ... making sure that we're addressing a lot of the challenges that might exist for temporary foreign workers, such as language differences, or language barriers, and perhaps not having a full understanding of the occupational health and safety rules that are in place for Nova Scotia."
But that's not a reaction to the complaints laid by Rosas at the Keltic Lodge.
"That was already on the outreach calendar for this year," Dolan said.
Feds inspected, but won't reveal results
Federal inspectors also looked into Rosas's complaint. But, in an email, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said that due to privacy concerns it cannot say what, if any, action was taken.
The department said consequences for not following the program rules can include warnings, fines and a ban on using the program in future.
Employers who receive warnings are not named publicly. But those who break the rules and are fined, or banned from the program, are listed on a government website.
Keltic Lodge has not been listed on that site.
Confidential tip line available
According to Employment and Social Development Canada, there were 204,700 temporary foreign workers in 2022.
In the last fiscal year that ended in March, the government found 116 employers who were not following the rules. Of those, 93 were handed administrative penalties totalling $1.54 million and the remainder were issued warnings, with seven of them banned from using the program for up to five years.
Temporary foreign workers who feel they are being abused can contact the federal government's confidential tip line online or by calling 1-866-602-9448.
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