Personalized support, soccer matches, informative and humorous videos… Fernand Ouellet and Samuele Seri redouble their efforts and imagination to inform and support temporary foreign workers (TFW) in the Portneuf regional county municipality.
Text and photo Marie-Anne Dayé
At the office of Accès Travail Portneuf (ATP), some 40 km west of Quebec City, team members are busy providing services to the region’s immigrants.
Among them, Fernand Ouellet, Immigration Project Manager, and Samuele Seri, Intercultural Worker, focus their efforts on temporary foreign workers (TFW). Formerly a tour guide, Fernand joined ATP during the pandemic. Samuele arrived in Quebec in 2018 and joined the project a few months ago. Originally from Italy, he went through his immigration process in Quebec and wanted to do his part to help those who experience difficulties during their journey. The two partners seem so dedicated to their mission that they find it hard not to check the messages they receive on their days off.
Their mission: to inform
Despite the fact that it’s quite difficult to estimate the exact number of TFW in the Portneuf RCM, as they arrive and depart at different times of the year, Fernand estimates the total for 2023 at nearly 600, compared with 450 last year. To reach them, he starts by establishing contact with the companies that hire them. “Today, we can say that 90% of companies are happy and agree to give us access to their workers,” he says.
The aim is to create a link with the workers, and then inform them of their rights and responsibilities, as well as offering them support when needed. The two colleagues provide accompaniment in emergency situations, yes, but also a lot of administrative and banking support,” mentions Samuele. What’s more, they have launched a series of videos entitled “Fernando, tengo una pregunta”, aimed at sharing information on services offered in Spanish to TFW. They also distribute information guides to the workers they meet.
A few obstacles
The main challenge is undoubtedly transportation. “Every now and then, someone has an accident. If there’s no transportation, how does he get to the hospital?” asks Fernand. Cyclo Nord-Sud recently sent 30 bikes to the organization for redistribution to TFW working on remote farms, but the challenge remains.
Then there are the communication challenges. “More and more people speak Spanish, but for a long time there was no one. It’s hard at the hospital if no one can hear you and you can’t understand the advice the doctor is giving you”. Communication problems between the employer and the TFW can also aggravate certain situations at work, he continues. Fernand and Samuele hope that, eventually, there will be more awareness-raising with the employer, as well as a better offer of transport to serve isolated areas.
ATP has a busy calendar, especially with soccer matches taking place every weekend in Saint-Marc-des-Carrières, Saint-Basile and Portneuf. French socialization sessions are offered every Thursday at Donnaconna – and according to organizers, some TFW are willing to drive 45 minutes to get there! Another popular activity is fishing. “It’s a winning approach to getting closer to them and talking with them, whereas on the soccer field, you don’t get their attention as easily,” Fernand observes.
On September 17, 2023, a celebration will be held in Portneuf to mark the independence of Mexico and Guatemala. Around 200 workers are expected to attend. It’s a rendez-vous!
The project was financed by the Government of Canada.