The popular Temporary Foreign Worker Program is being called a failure — both by a mechanic who answered Canada’s call and by the company that hired him.
Aziz Kabadayi, 46, qualified as automotive and truck technician in Germany in 1993.
He’s certified to do all journeyman work including diesel injection systems, emission controls, and body repair.
Kabadayi thought his German training and experience would prepare him for success in Canada. But five months after entering the country under the program, he’s unemployed, separated from his family, and paying a hefty rent bill every month.
He says his employer was insensitive to cultural differences, and fired him without proper notice.
The employer, Grove Dodge of Spruce Grove, Alta, says it went out of its way to be accommodating and fair, and met the terms of his contract, including paying his wages in lieu of notice.
The company says Kabadayi didn’t have the skills or equipment expected of a journeyman auto technician in Alberta.
Kabadayi is the son of “guest workers”, Turks who moved to Germany in search of work in the 1960s and 1970s.
German citizenship has only recently been possible for ethnic Turks, and Kabadayi says he never felt fully-accepted as a German.
“Germany has still very big problems with immigration,” he said. “And we always heard very good things about Canada, the weather, the nature; you know, you feel comfortable.”
Kabadayi and his wife decided to do what their parents did, and leave their country to work elsewhere — this time to Canada.
Kabadayi contacted a recruiting company, which in turn contacted a second recruiter that was working on behalf of Grove Dodge.
After several interviews the company offered him a one-year contract to work as an Automotive Service Technician at $36 an hour.
Kabadayi says he told them American vehicles are very rare in Germany, but that he was willing to learn if they were willing to train.
Kabadayi began work after Labour Day in 2012. When he came to the shop he was surprised at what he saw.
“I said ‘why do guys have so expensive tools?’ They said ‘What, you don’t have?’ I said ‘I don’t have any tool box.’”
Nobody had asked in the interviews whether Kabadayi owned a professional set of tools. In Germany it’s normal for the employer to supply the tools. In Canada, mechanics buy their own, which cost tens of thousands of dollars.
A Grove Dodge employee loaned him a set of old tools, and he was able to borrow others as needed.
But he struggled to meet the expectations of his employer.
The auto repair business is built around speed. Most shops charge customers based on a “book rate”: a standardized estimate of the time it takes to complete a repair.
Experienced technicians can usually beat the book rate by a considerable margin, earning more money for themselves and for the company.
With Kabadayi’s lack of proper tools, or experience with American vehicles, he couldn’t keep up.
The company fired him at the end of January.
“Suffice to say if he hadn’t come from another country, the job would have been terminated within days, a week,” said Josh Davis, Vice-President and General Manager of Grove Dodge.
“It was just a combination of so many things,” said Davis. “Speed, quality, comebacks; we had numerous vehicles that were damaged. Aziz may have been (performing) at a first- or second-year apprentice level at best.”
It’s an allegation Kabadayi disputes.
“If I don’t have experience, nobody has any experience.”
Although there is a high demand for auto technicians in Alberta, Kabadayi must now find an employer that has a Labour Market Opinion, (LMO), which constitutes permission to hire a foreign worker.
According to a study by the Alberta Federation of Labour, there are about 60,000 temporary foreign workers in Alberta. And that number is rising.
“(Kabadayi’s) options are limited," said AFL President Gil McGowan. “The clock is ticking. He has to find another job with an employer who has an LMO, or he’s going to have to leave.”
McGowan says people such as Kabadayi often have to accept lower wages and benefits to get re-hired.
“This is also bad for other workers as it drives down wages across the board,” McGowan said.
McGowan points to ads on the website Kjiji from workers looking for legal work. He says many will wind up working illegally.
“Like previous generations of foreign workers who have come to Canada they want to stay and become citizens,” he said.
“So instead of going back, they simply disappear into the underground economy. I don’t feel comfortable with the term, but we’re creating a problem of illegal aliens.”
Meanwhile, Grove Dodge has suspended its efforts to recruit temporary foreign workers.
“It was tough,” said Josh Davis. “We started in January 2011. Had I known how much works was involved, no, (we wouldn’t have gone this route.)”
Aziz Kabadayi’s visa expires in May, but with his money run out, he’s returning to Germany.
“You feel helpless," he said.
“I did not come here for vacation. I don’t have $100,000 in the bank. I am just worker taking his bread home with his hands.”