Going Mobile Chapter 1: Trafficking
Anong Na Ayuthaya came to Calgary from Thailand to work as an esthetician in a spa. Anong paid a Calgary-based labour broker 200,000 Baht (approximately $7500) for assistance with “resume writing” in order to secure the job and a work permit as a temporary foreign worker (TFW). “It was a lot of money for me and for my family. But the person promised me a good job earning $20 hourly doing skin and nail care. I paid $2000 up front and my employer was supposed to deduct the remainder from my paycheque during my first year.”
The cost of recruitment in Canada is supposed to be borne by the employer. Charging workers for fictional services, such as resume writing, is a common work-around that provides a legal fig leaf for both the labour broker and the employer.
Not as Promised
Often, workers who enter into such arrangements find the work they were promised is not available upon arrival. “When I got to Canada, the labour broker met me at the airport and drove me to a house. The house is where all of the workers live. When we arrived, the labour broker said the spa was not ready yet. But the employer would find other work for me until it opens. I was tired and my English was not so good so I agreed. He took my passport and work permit and I went to bed.
“Next night, the boss showed up along with a man with a van. The boss said we would work for the man cleaning buildings until the spa opened. The other girls were uncertain but we had no other choice. We had no money and no documents and we were living in the boss’ house.”
Wage Theft and Deportation
Anong and the other TFWs worked as cleaners for three months. The pay was poor. “We work 8 to 10 hours each night—sometimes six or seven nights a week. After two weeks, we each get $250 cash. He says he deducts rent and food and our labour broker fees and taxes. But there is no written record.”
“My friend Angele complained and the next day she was sent back to the Philippines. We did not complain after that. We were scared.”
“We owed a lot of money and we were scared for our families back home.”
Over the next year, Anong and her roommates worked for several different companies. “One week, it is this man. Next week, a new man shows up with a different van. The spa never opened. We just keep working as cleaners.”
Human Trafficking and Social Isolation
What Anong is experienced is human trafficking: the recruiting, harbouring, transporting, or controlling the movement of a person for the purpose of exploitation. Unlike many women, Anong is only being economically exploited through forced labour. It is also common for women to be sexually exploited, for example, by being compelled to engage in prostitution. As is typical in human-trafficking situations, the various men that Anong worked for were careful to keep Anong and her roommates isolated from other workers.
“We always clean alone. The building or restaurant is empty. We never see anyone but each other and the boss. There is no phone. Groceries are dropped off. The boss will send letters to our families he says and sometimes he brings letters from them. The only place we see other people is sometimes at the food court in the local mall when we go out during the day instead of sleeping.“
“I met a Thai man working at Subway. One day, we start talking. Next time, his wife is there and we start talking. She says this is wrong and wants to call the police. I don’t want to be deported. How will I pay the debt? So I tell l her no police.”
“So she offers to start sending letters to family for us and getting response. This is much better because I can be honest in these letters. This goes on for several months and my family says they are worried and I should come home. “But the boss searches the house because we stop sending letters through him. He finds our letters and is very angry. The next week, I am working in a different city. I do not see my roommates again.”
New Location, New Employer, Same Isolation
Like many trafficked women, Anong was moved to a new location to keep her isolated and prevent outsiders from helping her. “Now I am cleaning a motel and I no longer see my old boss. The new boss owns the motel. I live there and work there—cleaning or working in the kitchen. I eat there. It is just out of town—too far to walk easily in the winter.”
“The new boss says he is holding my pay for me for when my debt is worked off. He does not say how much I owe. But he says interest on debt means I must work longer than I think.”
No Access to Health Care
After three months at the new location, the stress felt by Anong became unbearable and began to affect her physical health. “I was very alone. I wanted to die. I had no one to talk to except the owner and his wife. They only tell me to work hard. Do this. Do that.” Ultimately, she contracted a case of pneumonia. “Finally, I am too sick and I faint. A motel guest calls the ambulance for me and I go to the hospital.”
Rescued, Repatriated, Ripped Off
“I stayed at the hospital for two weeks. I have no identification and social worker thinks I am illegal. I tell her that employer has papers and I have work permit. [Canadian Border Services Agency] is now involved and they find out I am legal worker but that new boss does not have [a labour market impact assessment]. So they investigate him.”
The Canadian Border Services Agency and the RCMP are presently investigating both the spa and motel owners. It is unlikely that either employer will be convicted of human trafficking—most charges are stayed or withdrawn due to lack of evidence. It is also unlikely that Anong will ever receive the money she believes is owed to her.