Club Med temporary foreign workers in Charlevoix, Que., say they face discrimination

A Club Med employee said when he asked to stop working the equivalent of one extra day a week, a superior told him: 'If you’re not happy, go back to Mexico.' (Marika Wheeler/Radio-Canada - image credit)
A Club Med employee said when he asked to stop working the equivalent of one extra day a week, a superior told him: 'If you’re not happy, go back to Mexico.' (Marika Wheeler/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Mexican temporary foreign workers at Club Med Quebec Charlevoix say they earn less than their Canadian counterparts and feel pressured to work overtime.

With a shortage of local workers available, the Charlevoix resort — located about 350 kilometres northeast of Montreal — turned toward foreign workers, mostly from Mexico, to fill positions mainly in housekeeping, food service and the kitchen.

According to information obtained by Radio-Canada, some Mexican employees who have worked at Club Med since it opened in 2021 aren't paid the same salaries as their Canadian colleagues. Some of those Canadian co-workers have noted the disparity, and say they find the pay difference deplorable.

Gwyn Boudreault, a New Brunswicker who used to work at Club Med, believes that it doesn't make sense that some of his Mexican colleagues earn $15.50 an hour, while his starting salary was about $20.

Submitted by Gwyn Boudreault
Submitted by Gwyn Boudreault

"I don't think it was fair. I don't understand the reason why, and I still to this day do not understand the reason why," he said. "Sure, they're immigrants, but they are also doing the same job that I am. Why aren't they getting paid the same?"

Radio-Canada spoke with two other Canadian employees who work in housekeeping who were also paid $20.50 per hour. As permitted by law, employees who live in accommodations provided by an employer have about $52 a week deducted from their wages.

Roxanne (not her real name, CBC/Radio-Canada has agreed to use a pseudonym to protect her identity due to her employment status) worked in housekeeping. She says was shocked to learn that some of her Mexican colleagues were earning $5 less per hour. She even asked to see one of their pay stubs as proof.

"I didn't think that was right," she said. "They work hard."

Olivier Rozier, the vice-president of North American operations for Club Med, said that the nationality of employees does not affect their salary. Rather, it's the level of training, skills, qualifications and experience of each individual, that determines their pay, he explained.

Rozier added that Club Med is currently working with the union that represents the employees, the Teamsters, and an outside firm to clear up any issues and situations of wage discrimination.

The Teamsters confirmed that a pay equity grievance has been filed.

Roxanne and Gwyn Boudreault said they have never felt pressure to work overtime but have noticed that during certain busy or understaffed periods, some Mexican employees work six days a week to their five.

'If you're not happy, go back to Mexico'

According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, more than 200 permits have been issued to foreign nationals to work at the Quebec Club Med since 2021.

One of the main reasons Ignacio (not his real name, CBC/Radio-Canada has agreed to use a pseudonym to protect his identity due to his employment status) accepted a position at Club Med was because he was attracted by the 40-hour, five-day schedule, that was indicated in his employment contract.

But once he landed on Canadian soil, the temporary worker, whose status does not allow him to work for any other employer, felt pushed to work six days a week.

"[Our bosses] know we have no choice but to do what they tell us," he said. "For a long time, we worked 48 hours a week."

When he asked to stop working the equivalent of one extra day a week, he said a superior told him: "If you're not happy, go back to Mexico."

Rozier described these comments as "discriminatory" and "contrary to Club Med's values."

"In a situation where this was happening and we were made aware of it, we would immediately get around the table and talk about it and take action," Rozier said.

Alexandre Duval/Radio-Canada
Alexandre Duval/Radio-Canada

But Ignacio said "Club Med gives a lot of importance to their guests to make them really happy but at the cost of us being really miserable."

Feeling the pressure

Ignacio's schedule has settled back to 40 hours per week. He noticed an improvement in his hours after the signing of a first collective agreement in April. But his colleague, Alberto Pacheco, a pastry sous-chef, was still feeling a lot of pressure to work overtime when Radio-Canada interviewed him in mid-September, even when he made it clear he did not want the extra hours.

"If I say no for something [and] I have the right to do it, why do they keep insisting?" Pacheco said. "If they don't have the personnel to give the service to 800 people, don't book 800 people. That's it."

But some workers appreciate the overtime hours, union rep Sylvain Lacroix said.

Rozier, for his part, said that "overtime is not offered according to the nationalities of the employees, and that everyone is free to do as they wish."

Workers also complain that their schedules can change with very little notice. The "lack of respect for our time" is a big source of frustration, according to Pacheco.

Vincent Archambeau-Cantin/Radio-Canada
Vincent Archambeau-Cantin/Radio-Canada

"You never know if they're going to change your schedule or your days off, so I don't feel comfortable making plans," says Pacheco, who finds the unpredictability makes it all the more difficult to make friends and build a life for himself outside of work.

For his part, Rozier says that schedules are established over a four-week period in accordance with the collective agreement.

"It's hard to work for Club Med," said Roxanne, the Canadian employee. "I don't refer anyone."

She used to have a few dozen Canadian colleagues in her department but only three or four remain.

Rozier said that by the end of the summer the turnover was 15 per cent, "so very acceptable for our industry."

However, most of the resort's foreign employees have closed permits that prevent them from working for any employer other than Club Med.

Contesting living, working conditions

Club Med employees have begun to turn to the Réseau d'aide aux travailleuses et travailleurs migrants agricoles du Québec (RATTMAQ), an organization dedicated to the rights of migrant workers, to protect their working and living conditions.

The co-ordinator of RATTMAQ's Quebec City office, Véronique Tessier, said she has been approached by about 10 Club Med employees with complaints about housing and various working conditions.

Marika Wheeler/Radio-Canada
Marika Wheeler/Radio-Canada

She explained that employees feel helpless and abandoned and don't know where to turn for help.

She would like to see an end to the permits that keep employees tied to a single employer. She says the system gives employers an unfair advantage but concedes that the entire licensing model would need to be revisited to achieve this.

"The people we bring here are not just labour but first and foremost human beings," Tessier explains.

According to the Commission des normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST), the provincial workplace safety board, temporary foreign workers have the same labour rights and obligations as all workers in Quebec.

Source of stress and instability

"Some [workers] are still living in housing without access to a kitchen," said Tessier. "We're talking about permanent housing, not something for a few weeks."

Club Med has responded that it is not required to provide housing for its employees and maintains that each building has kitchens, either individual or shared.

However, the Radio-Canada investigation showed that some dwellings have access only to a small refrigerator and a microwave.

Workers living in Baie-St-Paul, 25 kilometres from the resort, told RATTMAQ that they felt insecure about their housing situation and that many had been relocated several times, with little certainty about where they would live.

For Tessier, this is a testament to the fact that the company and the local community were not prepared for such a large contingent of foreign workers.

The approximately 200 permits for foreign workers were issued under the International Mobility Program, which exempts the employer from the Labor Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) process but also from providing housing to the permit holders.

Workers disappointed

While Rozier said that "healthy working conditions are at the heart of our priorities and that vision is shared within our company, our history and our values," the five employees Radio-Canada spoke with expressed disappointment with their experience.

Many spoke of a deterioration in their mental health. Some even said that their work experience at Club Med Quebec Charlevoix was among the worst of their lives.

"Personally, I feel like we are nothing to them," said Ignacio. "We are replaceable. We are expendable. It's just hard. Some of us feel very alone because of these working conditions."

Like Ignacio, Pacheco hoped his contract with Club Med would be the gateway to a new life and permanent residence in Canada.

"The reason I am staying in this job is because I know it's not the worst job," Pacheco said. "My desire to stay in Canada is stronger."

After his interview with Radio-Canada, Pacheco resigned from Club Med because he said he couldn't take it anymore. Ignacio says he wants to work elsewhere.