Rampant Racism Experienced by Filipino Tim Hortons Employees

Fast Food

“Is Really Filipino Good For Cleaning Only?”, as the October 15 screenshot and video of the racist verbal attack against Filipino workers by a customer at Tim Hortons drive-through in Markham, Ontario, Canada went viral and news spread widely.


Mildred German

As the October 15 Tiktok video exposes another incident of racism, not only did it gathered thousands of views, but also the anger, hurt, disappointment, and criticism expressed by the Filipino community members.

​​“Why are you working at Tim Hortons? ‘Cause you have to clean the house,” is heard from the customer.  “Just clean the house, change the sheets. Why are you working at Tim Hortons?”

This racist incident not only targets one person but the whole Filipino community. As Filipinos work in many service-oriented jobs such as fast food, retail, cleaning, and the healthcare sectors, they are being hailed as “essentials” and in-demand. However, racism, verbal assaults, and systemic racism against Filipinos is not new, and as exposed, is rampant.


Globally, Filipinos have been hailed as “essential workers” with many of their contributions recognized. For decades the Philippines has been one of the top migrant-labour producing countries with overseas Filipino workers working in over 197 countries, including Canada, benefiting from the Filipino labour.

Yet, despite the skills, high-education levels, hard work, and contribution to society, essential workers are not protected against racism, violence, and violations against their rights and welfare.

As racism has been expressed by Filipinos and many immigrant and migrant communities for many decades, the violations against the rights of Filipino workers remain. Such violations are also largely rooted in the systemic racism embedded in the system.

Historically, many foreign credentials of our immigrant and migrant communities, including the Filipino community, remain unrecognized, unappreciated and undervalued. The lack of accreditation of many immigrants’ and migrant communities’ skills and education have delegated these workers to many 3D (dirty, difficult, and dangerous) low-wage jobs many Canadians do not want to do despite the national shortage of workers.

Jobs in healthcare and service-oriented sectors have been in high demand. But not only are there policies that de-skill foreign accreditations, many professionals such as nurses, teachers, technicians, and more have faced the challenges of upgrading and practicing their careers in Canada. Thus these systemic policies and barriers have forced many Filipinos to work in many jobs not related to their professions.

The Filipino community’s experience with the mandated English-tests and requirements is of particular significance.  Although English is one of its official languages, many Filipinos are subjected to language discrimination. Such discrimination has been a tool to withhold jobs and positions related to their professions. In addition, they too are faced with the overwhelming bureaucracy and high cost of upgrading and re-training fees.

As the Canadian food industry is experiencing labour-shortage and crisis amidst the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, workers in high-demand labour sectors  remain the most hit and affected. The industry has been one of the most hit by outbreaks.

As the 2020 outbreak at the meat-processing Alberta Cargill facility records hundreds of employees that tested positive to the coronavirus and three deaths, nothing much has been done about the racism and barriers affecting workers. Rather, the Filipino community has faced the blame and criticism due to their crowded housing conditions.

Such reports (and many unreported incidents) of rampant racism have resulted in the further marginalization of the Filipino community and vulnerability to abuse.

In addition to the working conditions and systemic barriers in recognizing foreign credentials, the Filipino community and its many “essential workers” have also been faced with many unjust deportations and family separation. To date, there are still policies in Canada that separate workers from their families and children. As workers fill in the demands of labour shortages, their rights to be with their families and children are faced with barriers after barriers embedded in immigration and labour policies and the ongoing bureaucracy.


In terms of the very important task of reducing the transmission of the deadly coronavirus, the effective, meticulous, and undervalued tasks of cleaning is key to stopping the vicious spread of COVID-19.

Despite seeing the high value and importance of the cleaning duties and professions, many workers in cleaning sectors in the forefront fight against COVID-19 have faced discrimination and racist tirades.

Although the woman who was caught unleashing insults and racism against Filipino Tim Hortons employees at a drive-though in Ontario and has apologized after the video went viral, the racism remains  will remain with no further actions in the community and systemic levels. It begs the questions: what are employers, companies, and workplaces such as Tim Hortons doing to eradicate racism faced by their workers?

These incidents of discrimination and racism against cleaners also show the values upheld in the Canadian society, in its many workplaces and industries, on how cleaning duties are seen as taboo, and under-priviledged. When racist tirades targeting the important duties of cleaning and the workers doing these essential tasks are under attack, such incidents also expose the privileges of many Canadians with poor moral values and appreciation to one of the most important and life-saving tasks amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

As many depend on cleaners and “essential workers” to do the jobs many Canadians do not want and expect to solve the crisis brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, notions such as how to show appreciation for the many life-saving tasks shouldered by these “heroes” are missing. It also raises the questions – what is Canada and their employers doing for the workers and their families when workers get sick, or die doing essential work amidst the pandemic?

Racism is definitely a bigger problem than the COVID-19 virus.

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