Fair Fees - Frais équitable
In Pascal Apuwa's global village, parts of the neighbourhood aren't too friendly.
The Burnaby resident immigrated to Canada in 2006 and regularly transfers money back to his relatives in drought-ravaged western Kenya. But the 20-per-cent-plus fees he pays to transfer agents are cutting into Apuwa's ability to support his family.
Read the full story here.
*Below is an op-ed that has been submitted to a number of Canadian newspapers from ACORN Canada & ACORN International*
The Canadian government can no longer afford to be apathetic towards the plight of migrant workers' remittances when they are behind a guest-worker program that accepts candidates based on low levels of education and strong family ties. With such criteria it is unimaginable that the government would be unaware of the role of remittances in the lives of these workers’ families.
Every year, 20,000 workers from Mexico and the Caribbean, mostly men, make the journey to work in Canada’s agricultural sector, largely in southern Ontario and British Columbia. These migrant workers are brought to Canada through the government sponsored Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) for up to eight months. The program describes its function as matching “workers from Mexico and the Caribbean countries with Canadian farmers who need temporary support during planting and harvesting seasons, when qualified Canadians or permanent residents are not available.”
Rassel Mohammad pays a hefty price to help out his two widowed aunts and six school-age cousins in Bangladesh.
Once every three months, the Toronto man strolls into the Western Union outlet in his neighbourhood Money Mart to wire money to relatives — on top of supporting his mother, wife and four-month-old daughter here in Canada.
He sends $100 each time, but also ends up paying an $11 fee. Western Union’s fee rises to $17 if he sends the same amount using his cellphone.
“It’d be nice if they can keep the fee lower,” said Mohammad, 32, a warehouse shipping clerk.
“Many of our members are directly affected by the exorbitant fees banks and other financial institutions are charging for money transfers,” said ACORN [Canada] president Kay Bisnath. The group is petitioning Western Union to cap its remittance rate at 5 per cent.
Bisnath said the rate is recommended by the World Bank in light of a $325 billion yearly cash flow — $7.5 billion in Canada alone — from 215 million migrants sending money to family members in developing countries.
As a community social services student at Douglas College, Burnaby resident Pascal Apuwa doesn't have a lot of extra money to throw around.
The little extra he does have, he sends home to his family in Korogocho, Kenya.
But the fees on remittances - money transferred from someone in one country to another - are cutting into the amount his family receives, he said.
"When I send money back home, I want it to go to helping the people," Apuwa said in a phone interview.
Apuwa headed a demonstration by Acorn Canada on July 27 outside the Money Mart at 7088 Kingsway, to protest the fees that Western Union charges on sending remittances overseas.
Money Mart acts as an agent for Western Union. The group presented a letter for Western Union's CEO to the agent there, Apuwa said.
Many of you may remember ACORN Canada’s first national campaign: Predatory Payday Lending - the loan sharks that charged exorbitant rates and used deceptive pricing to rip off working families.
When we first started looking into Western Union and other Remittance providers we were struck by the similarities to payday lenders; shady storefront operations, predatory fee structures, and a lack of consumer protection - and we were right, they're just as bad.
Don’t just take it from me, Pascal Apuwa, a leading member from Metro Vancouver who uses Western Union to send money to his family in Nairobi, Kenya, has this to say:
“I send whatever I can afford to my friends and family back home – and for every dollar I send Western Union gets 20 cents. I send $100 dollars to help feed people I love, and this massive company keeps $20. That’s wrong, and they need to lower their charges immediately.”
That’s why we’re calling on Western Union to cap their charges at 5% - the amount recommended by the World Bank. We’re collecting signatures from folks across Canada who support this campaign and if we reach 5,000 we’ll ship them to Western Union CEO Hikmet Ersek’s office in suburban Colorado.
New Canadians and temporary foreign workers who send money to family members back in their home countries are being charged exorbitant transfer service fees, says a national non-profit that representslow- and moderate-income families.
Pascal Apuwa, a spokesperson for ACORN Canada, says fees levied on remittance payments—the moneyimmigrants send to family members in their country of origin—by moneytransfer organizations such as Western Union are as high as 20–25 percent.
“For every dollar I send, Western Union gets 20 cents,” Apuwa says, regarding his own experience in sending money to family in a rural village in Kenya.
“Western Union is in the small towns and rural areas, but banks are only found in the big cities. My mom is not in the city, she is in a rural area, so that’s why I have to use Western Union.”
In addition, transfer service companies sometimes charge hidden fees and fail to pay full value for exchange rates to poverty-stricken relatives collecting the funds, says Apuwa, a Canadian citizen.
Since coming to Canada as a refugee in 2006, Pascal Apuwa has been sending money back home to his mother and sister in Kenya.
He sends what he can every month or two, as much as $300 when he was working, to $100 or $60 now that he's a student, all the while knowing the money helped put food on the table for his family.
Each time the Burnaby resident pays what he is told to by Western Union, which operates out of a Money Mart on Kingsway near Edmonds Street.
But after learning at an Acorn Canada meeting that the company takes a significant share of the money through service charges and unfavourable exchange rates, he's fighting back.
Apuwa, 30, led a protest at the Western Union office Wednesday to raise awareness of the issue.
Canadian residents who use commercial money transfer services to send funds to family members back home are paying unreasonably high fees, says a non-profit that represents low-income families.
According to ACORN Canada spokesperson Pascal Apuwa, fees levied on international money transfers can be as high as 20 to 25 per cent.
"We are demanding that these agencies reduce their charges and we are asking the government to regulate them," says Apuwa.
According to a spokesperson for the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, there are currently no federal regulations on money transfer fees.
Remittance payments, the term used to describe money that foreign workers send back to their countries of origin, are not only vitally important for the individuals who receive them, says Apuwa, but also constitute a significant flow of funds to developing countries around the world.
For immediate release
New Canadians, temporary foreign workers, and others struggling to support loved ones abroad are fed up with the high cost of remittances and money transfers.
The ongoing famine in Somalia, and devastating drought in neighbouring Kenya has one person especially upset. For Pascal Apuwa - a leader in the national campaign for Remittance Justice – these twin crises’s have made the call for reducing remittance rates ever more urgent.
“Like many new Canadians I send whatever I can afford to send back to my friends and family back in East Africa – and for every dollar I send Western Union gets 20 cents. I send 100 dollars to help feed people I love, and a massive company keeps $20. That’s wrong, and they need to lower their charges immediately. At this point, because of the drought, that money they are taking from my pocket could save someone’s life!” Pascal Apuwa from Burnaby, BC explains.