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Belizeans accuse Canadian McDonald’s of “slavery”

Belizean workers at McDonald’s in Canada are accusing the company of treating them like “slaves”. A report by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, CBC, states that the Belizeans say that McDonald’s is effectively forcing them to share an expensive apartment, then deducting almost half their take-home pay as rent.

The Belizeans who migrated to Canada after an invitation by that country to apply for jobs over a year ago, said that when they arrived at the airport they were told that there was already an apartment for them. “At that point we already know we don’t have a choice of where to live,” said Jaime Montero, who traveled to Edmonton with four others to work at McDonald’s. “We had to live there. We were told this is what we are doing,” said another worker who didn’t want to be named because he still works for McDonald’s. “You work for us now, so we are your owners”, they claim they were told.

The Belizeans said their dream of making good money in Canada to send to their families in Belize quickly shattered. Instead, they pocketed less than $800 per month, which they said is barely enough to live on. They worked at McDonald’s locations in south Edmonton and said it took them more than an hour to get to work by public transit.

Records from three employees show they made $11 an hour working at various McDonald’s locations and the company took $280 from their pay for rent, bi-weekly. Their remaining take-home pay for the same pay periods was roughly $350.
“[The apartment lease] contracts are signed by McDonald’s. All of our bills – utility bills – were billed [to us] under the name of McDonald’s,” said Montero.
McDonald’s housed them in a penthouse apartment in downtown Edmonton, even though they worked on the southern outskirts of the city. The corporation signed a six-month lease, which the workers said they were expected to honour as tenants.
The apartment rented by McDonald’s is at the top of a downtown highrise. Records suggest the corporation charged the workers $600 more to live there than what it paid the landlord for rent.

“They actually said even if we leave the apartment and go rent another apartment, that McDonald’s would still deduct the rent from our salary,” said the other worker.
Since recent Go Public reports about McDonald’s practices with the workers, they said the corporation required all staff to sign an agreement, stipulating they would not speak to the media.

McDonald’s fired Montero in November, after he said managers accused him of complaining online about the company and intimidating other workers, which he and the other Belizeans insisted is not true. “I even slept once outside in the cold. Then I found out about homeless shelters and I stayed out at the homeless shelters,” Montero said.

The rental contracts show McDonald’s paid $2,359 per month to rent the suite in the Boardwalk building. The corporation didn’t pay utilities or other extra costs. McDonald’s has several corporate owned restaurants in Edmonton, and is advertising for more workers on the foreign worker recruitment site. Five workers paying $280 bi-weekly works out to $3,030 per month. That suggests McDonald’s charged them $600 more for rent than what it paid. Go Public pointed out that discrepancy to McDonald’s, but received no explanation. The lease expired at the end of February and the Belizeans have since found a more affordable apartment.

Canadian Employment Minister, Jason Kenney told Go Public if the workers felt coerced to rent a place they didn’t want to live in, that would warrant investigation. “No one, including an employer, can force anyone to live in a particular place,” said Kenney, whose department said it is looking into this case. “It doesn’t matter whether they are a Canadian citizen, permanent resident or temporary resident, they have full mobility rights. And if any employer is somehow using ways to coerce people to stay in a particular place that would be illegal.”

Canadian Opposition Employment Critic, Jinny Sims said the government should suspend all pending foreign worker permits for McDonald’s, given the recent criticism. The job offers they signed in Belize list the possibility of overtime pay. The employment contract actually states McDonald’s will not provide housing.
Montero said they feel ripped off by the whole experience. “I was making more money in Belize [working construction] than I made here in McDonald’s in Canada,” he said.
Sims said in light of all the recent Go Public reports about McDonald’s practices, the government should suspend all pending foreign work permits for its restaurants.

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