ONTARIO - Suzette Alcaro used to work as a domestic helper in Hong Kong until she decided to trade brooms for mushrooms in Canada.
Leaving behind her family in the Philippines, Alcaro is one of many Filipinos working as mushroom pickers in the hopes of becoming an immigrant.
“If the government approves my application to become an immigrant, I will take it so I can bring my husband here. If you think about it, this is for my family,” she said.
Alcaro, one of the top mushroom pickers in the village of Sharon in Ontario, earns around P150,000 a month, enough to provide for a family in Manila.
Teddy Legaspi, a native of General Santos City and a former high school teacher, is also among Filipino mushroom pickers seeking greener pastures in Canada.
Legaspi, who stays in a staff house along with other mushroom pickers, earns around P100,000 a month for harvesting mushrooms, which is pegged to be a $900-million industry in Canada.
“That (work) is good, the housing, very good,” he said, noting that the main problem he encountered was adjusting to the weather.
HARD WORK VS. EDUCATIONAL ATTAINMENT
With many Filipinos eyeing to build a better life in Canada, recruiters have become stricter with the hiring process and explained that hard work is one’s backbone to survival.
Lily Miranda Hammer, president of A & L Hammers Workforce, said Filipino applicants are preferred in Canada since most could speak English.
“Filipinos are good in English that’s why they are easily employable. To be honest, they don’t have to become highly-educated or college graduates to get hired. They just have to be hardworking,” she said.
Applicants for mushroom pickers undergo a 3-month seminar and training shouldered by the Canadian government, said Hammer.
Those who pass the training and background checks are then flown to Canada to work as mushroom pickers for 2 years.
When in Canada, workers are provided with free board and lodging and transportation services, aside from a monthly allowance.
Aside from mushroom picking, Hammer said openings are also available for butchers and oyster farm workers.
But Hammer explained that with the growing number of job opportunities in Canada for Filipinos, there has been an increase in the number of “runaways” or Filipinos who abandon their work and breach their signed contract.
Impatience in settling down is usually the reason why Filipinos stray away from their contracts to look for other jobs, said Renzi Cacnio, a Filipino mushroom picker in Ontario.
Cacnio, a high school graduate from Malabon City, said he has heard many stories of Filipinos leaving their jobs.
"Many cannot wait to find a settlement here and most of those who run away have relatives here where they run to," he said.
"They must consider that while they are waiting to settle here, at least they have a source of income," he added.
The Department of Foreign Affairs on Thursday urged job seekers to verify employment opportunities with the help of the government's labor offices.
Ambassador Petronilo Garcia urged Filipinos to exercise caution "in believing reports of ways to work abroad that bypass the Philippine government's standard procedures for the deployment of Filipino workers overseas."
-- Reports from Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News