Mistreatment of Temporary Workers

By Reuben Seguritan


A lot of people in the world aspire to work in the United States. This may be because there are not enough jobs in their country, or the value of the United States dollar in their country is very high, or they would like a better life for themselves and their family. One of the ways to work in the United States is through the temporary work program.


The two most common work programs are the H-2A temporary agricultural work program (H-2A program) and the H-2B temporary non-agricultural work program (H-2B program). Other programs refer to domestic workers. Domestic workers usually work for diplomats, representatives of international organizations and businessmen. The law states that their employers should provide them with employment contracts that comply with United States laws.


The Department of Labor and Department of Homeland Security have jointly issued regulations for the H-2A and H-2B programs. H-2A and H-2B workers are entitled to federally funded legal services for employment issues, guarantee of three-fourths of the hours in the job contracts, and reimbursement for travel to the United States after completing 50% of the job and protections against employer retaliation. In addition, H-2A workers are entitled to free housing and are exempt from social security tax.


For all temporary workers, their employment contract must include the following provisions: an agreement by the employer not to keep from them their passport, employment contract or other personal property; an agreement by the employer to follow all United States laws; an explanation of salary and the frequency of payment of salary; and a description of the work duties, weekly work hours, holidays, sick and vacation days.


Although there are laws in place to prevent the trafficking and abuse of the temporary workers, there are a lot of problems. Temporary workers have experienced wage abuses, inadequate living conditions, discrimination, imprisonment or limitation of movement, sexual abuse and threats of deportation.


To begin, the abuse and mistreatment of the workers begin with the workers not even having signed contracts with their employers as required by law. Second, although there was an agreed salary during the application phase in his home country with the foreign recruiter, when the worker arrives and starts working in the United States, he is paid less or made to work for a lot more and is also paid less. Sometimes the work is substantially different than the work agreed upon.


Another reason why abuses occur is because the visa of the workers is tied to one employer only. The workers feel trapped and decide to endure the abuse because they cannot leave and get another job with another employer. Furthermore, they have no leverage to even talk to their employers to ask for a better treatment or wages because their employer has their passport and visa and sometimes money. If they even ask, they will be threatened with loss of their job and wages.


Debt is another way for abusive employers to continue the mistreatment of temporary workers. The employers charge the employees with fees for lodging and utilities, even if sometimes there is no clean water or food provided. The debt begins with the recruiters in their home countries who charge large fees for their services and make the worker pay for the travel to the United States. The workers are not reimbursed for the travel expenses even after working for at least 50% of the stated period.


Lastly, some workers have reported that they were not allowed to leave the premises of their worksite or forced to live on their worksite. They were treated like prisoners and denied their human rights.


The mounting problems with the H-2A and the H-2B programs and the domestic workers have led to changes in the laws. The important thing is for the workers themselves to be brave and report abuses when they occur.