Many immigrants in Vancouver are volunteering in work placements through a program started by South Vancouver Neighbourhood House, which is funded by Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada. These new immigrants want Canadian volunteer experience so that it adds value to their resume and help them find a good job in the near future. Many immigrants are also working for free at for-profit organizations like Subway, where they work as sandwich artists and pharmacy assistants at Medicine Shoppe franchises.
Labor lawyers feel that the program is perfect for newcomers as they are by Employment Standards Act and even if they are doing it for free, they are given minimum salary and other protections.
More than 27 immigrants participated in the program in 2016 and 2017, and the placement is for 40 to 100 hours long. Susanna Quail, the Vancouver-based lawyer, said that any work done by an employee is employed. If someone’s making sandwiches at Subway, then you have to pay them. Sunny Sanan, a Subway franchise owner, feels that it is a good program. Vancouver has an unemployment rate of below five percent, making it very difficult to find good employees. David Lee, manager, Medicine Shoppe franchise hired a few volunteer pharmacy assistants through the program but didn’t know about the Employment Standards while associating with it.
Not an employment program
Lee said he likes the idea of showing immigrants how things operate in Canada. Eric Lau was hired around six years ago to head the South Vancouver Neighbourhood House program. He said that the essence is to help new immigrants who don’t have any Canadian work experience. Lau warned that it isn’t an employment program but a part of Settlement and Integration program and is about giving them the opportunity to succeed. The Canadian labor market is strict about Canadian work experience and prefers hiring those who are integrated into the system. The volunteer program is an opportunity for them to get valuable experience.