Migrant worker alleges unhealthy conditions in staff residence at Cape Breton resort
A temporary foreign worker says he is worried about his health due to living conditions at one of Nova Scotia's oldest golf resorts.
Orlando Rosas of Mexico says his cousin, who was also his roommate, contracted pneumonia due to moisture and mould not long after moving into the staff residence at the Keltic Lodge in Ingonish, Cape Breton, in May.
His cousin went to the hospital in Neils Harbour before being sent to the regional hospital in Sydney, where he was given a six-week course of antibiotics and told to rest.
Rosas said his cousin went back to Mexico in June to recuperate, rather than stay in the staff residence.
Since then, Rosas said he has constantly battled mould on his clothes, in staff washrooms and in the laundry room.
"After that, I was worried, because I said I don't want to get that sick ... and they were not doing [anything]."
That and occasionally poor quality food in the staff cafeteria forced Rosas to quit his job as a room attendant.
Rosas said he complained to his supervisors, but no one took his concerns seriously, so he reported them to Nova Scotia's Department of Labour.
In mid-July, the department told Rosas it would investigate and send a specialist from Halifax.
But during the heavy rains that caused localized flooding around the province on July 21, the Keltic Lodge's staff housing flooded.
The resort brought in industrial dehumidifiers and ripped up some of the flooring to get rid of the excess water.
More than a week later, water could still be seen leaking from pipes in the laundry room ceiling and mould could be seen on pipes and walls in bedrooms, washrooms and the laundry room.
Provincial inspectors arrived at the Keltic Lodge last week, but the department declined to comment, saying an investigation was ongoing.
Rosas took pictures and videos showing various moisture and mould problems.
One video shows live insects moving around inside a bag of bread that Rosas said was served at the staff cafeteria.
"I'm not saying that every day it's that bad," he said. "Some days are like OK."
Rosas also said the employer was supposed to pay for biometrics service at immigration, which is a $240 fee for things like fingerprinting and photographing of temporary foreign workers.
In his case, the company asked him to pay it on arrival in Canada with a promise of being reimbursed later, he said. Rosas said he still hasn't seen the money.
"It's almost two months and a half and I'm still being pointed as you're complaining about everything, including that," he said.
The resort is managed by GolfNorth Properties of Ontario. The lodge's general manager, Michael Young, said he was never told Rosas's cousin got sick from mould, but downplayed the worker's complaints, saying he took immediate action every time a problem came up.
He said the residence building's heating and ventilation system was working, but it was unable to keep up after a stretch of hot, humid weather.
"To add insult to injury, when we had heavy rains about seven to 10 days ago, there was a flood on the lower level of the residence, so that didn't help," Young said.
"But we certainly reacted right away. We corrected it. We had industrial dehumidifiers [brought] in and that made a significant difference right away."
To deal with water dripping from a pipe in the laundry room ceiling last week, a trough was used to catch the water and to direct it to the wall, where it ran down to the floor next to a dehumidifier.
Young said that was a temporary solution that was fixed permanently the next day.
"If you were to come back here today, the floors have all been repaired and epoxy sealed," he said. "The washer and dryer sustained damage. Those are back up and running."
Young said he toured the entire facility with provincial inspectors last week and no other staff made any complaints.
Some have expressed concerns, he said, but that's to be expected in an aging facility.
This is the first year the Keltic Lodge has brought in temporary foreign workers, Young said.
"We realized that in order to operate the facility in the way that it should be operated that we needed to have some more workers and we went this route and it's proven to be very, very successful."
Out of a staff of roughly 110, around 25 to 30 are temporary foreign workers, said Young.
He said Rosas's complaints were being dealt with.
"Regardless whether you say to an employee that you're doing everything and anything to make an attempt to correct something, sometimes it's always one or two people that decide they're going to find another reason to escalate the matter or take it in their own hands," he said.
Stacey Gomez, manager of the migrant worker program with No One Is Illegal in Halifax, said the agency regularly gets complaints from temporary foreign workers, receiving 11 new ones last month.
Complaints vary widely from physical assaults by employers to unsafe working conditions and illegal fees charged by employers.
Many of the migrant workers in Nova Scotia are in the agricultural and seafood-processing sectors, but last year the federal government lifted a restriction on migrant workers in areas with high unemployment, including Cape Breton.
"The Canadian government has really been increasing the ability for employers in other sectors to hire migrant workers and so we expect to see more complaints from workers, unfortunately," Gomez said.
The problem is that labour standards are enforced through a complaints-based system rather than through unannounced inspections, especially where workers are more vulnerable, she said.
"So far, we have not seen movement towards a more proactive system, so it's something that we are continuing to advocate around."
In addition, No One Is Illegal is pushing government to get rid of closed work permits that tie a worker to a single employer and make it so workers can move to another without difficulty.
"As well, there is a movement throughout the country calling for full and permanent immigration status for all migrants and for status on arrival for migrant workers, which would provide them with the ability to make complaints without fear of immigration-related reprisals, access to essential services like health care and to be able to be with their families, because oftentimes they're not able to bring their families with them when they come and work here," Gomez said.
Rosas said he would like to return to Canada and bring his wife and children, but not if he had to work at the Keltic Lodge.
"I can't judge the whole country just because of one employer," he said. "Maybe it was my bad luck that I chose the wrong opportunity to come here."
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Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for 37 years. He has spent the last 19 covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at [email protected].
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