Foreign workers have reported systemic exploitation by a company run by an Israeli couple, which manages a chain of mall kiosks selling massage devices and other products in Canada.
The story was exposed by CBC on Monday, after they got inside information from Anton Soloviov, a foreign worker from Israel who had been working at the company.
“They import you as a worker. Then they put you to 12-hours-a-day work...and they don’t pay you. So basically, that’s human trafficking," reported Soloviov.
Canadian immigration officials have ruled that Soloviov is indeed a "victim of trafficking in persons," while his former supervisor is being investigated by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) for making death threats.
Soloviov arrived in Canada from Israel last September to work for the company, in hopes of becoming a Canadian citizen. He was told to pay $1,900 to fly to Vancouver, and further to lie to border officials by pretending to be a tourist.
Canadian federal rules require employers to pay for temporary foreign workers' airfare. Soloviov added that he and other workers were told after arriving that they could work illegally, or pay $500 for a work visa.
Payrolls of the company show that he and others weren't paid hourly wages; they were supposed to receive $13 an hour and $21 for overtime hours according to Canadian law.
“I got paid 50 bucks or 100 bucks in the three months I worked and that’s bad exploitation. But some people were actually slaves and ended up owing him money," remarked Soloviov. He noted that the workers were fined for various "infractions," including checking the time on their phones or talking to each other.
Matters reach a head with death threats
The situation continued until December, when Soloviov had had enough and told his supervisor he was going to file a claim for unpaid wages with B.C.'s employment standards branch.
In response, his supervisor allegedly shouted at him and started destroying furniture in the rental home he and four other workers were being housed in. Soloviov reports that the suprvisor threatened to have someone kill him.
Soloviov immediately fled to the police, where he got a call from an unidentified Hebrew-speaking man who threatened to "put a bullet in his head." Police recorded the call, and went to search for the supervisor at the mall, only to find that he'd disappeared. The investigation against him is currently ongoing.
After fleeing his erstwhile employers, Soloviov stayed at a homeless shelter and went on social assistance, before the immigration department gave him a new work permit for six months due to the serious nature of the case, allowing him to find a new job.
The company's practices evidently have been known to several government agencies for a long period of time. As early as 2011, mall kiosks staffed by Israeli workers were raided by the Canada Border Services Agency in Ottawa and Halifax.
Despite the raids, the Employment Ministry did not revoke the company's foreign worker permits then, or after the latest allegations by Soloviov. Reportedly, the company's kiosks currently remain open.