As coronavirus wreaks havoc, these precarious workers have ‘no one to turn to’
Construction worker Cesar Paredes, whose wife is due with their first child on May 29, was told by his foreman last Friday that there’s no job for him and 10 other crew members as construction work slowed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Unlike his Canadian colleagues, the undocumented worker from Mexico is not eligible for employment insurance or any provincial or financial aid for those who have lost their jobs due to the crisis.
Paredes’ only social safety net is his physical labour — and some savings, which he says have been depleted after he paid thousands of dollars to an immigration consultant for a promised work permit that was never delivered.
“Half of the guys on our crew are like me, from Latin America, with no status in Canada. We have looked for other jobs, but there are no jobs out there,” said the 31-year-old Toronto man, who worked as an engineer in the oil and gas industry before coming here in 2018 as a tourist.
“I have $300 left. We have no money for rent. I don’t know how long the money will last. At least my Canadian colleagues can still keep afloat. I have nothing but an unknown future.”
Over the last two weeks, Toronto’s FCJ Refugee Centre has been fielding calls from people with precarious immigration status, who have been let go from their jobs and are in need of food and shelter.
“I had three calls today alone from people who had no food in their fridge and were facing eviction from their apartment next month,” said Francisco Rico-Martinez, the centre’s co-director.
“Migrant workers, non-status people, international students and temporary residents are the most vulnerable because there’s a lack of language and understanding of the system, and they have no idea of what resources are out there for them, if any.”
His group is one of more than three dozen community organizations in Ontario that are urging all levels of governments to extend their COVID-19 income support and essential services to all residents, regardless of immigration status.
Since March 16, more than a million Canadians have applied for employment insurance as the pandemic ravages Canada’s economy.
The federal government has rolled out the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, among other measures, to provide $2,000 a month for up to four months for workers who lose income as a result of the pandemic.
However, the government assistance is designed for Canadian citizens and permanent residents, and won’t be available to most of those in the country with temporary status, said Avvy Go, director of the Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic in Toronto.