Policy Submission: Permanent Status on Landing – Real reform for Caregivers

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A century of experience has demonstrated that caregiving labour is an ongoing permanent need in the economy. More than 60 years of caregivers’ experience with temporary labour migration to Canada has demonstrated consistent, well-documented, widespread problems of exploitation and abuse by employers and recruiters. Repeated reviews by Parliamentary Committees (most recently the 2016 HUMA Committee hearings), as well as academic and community-based research have demonstrated that this exploitation is rooted in the vulnerability that is created by the terms of Canada’s temporary labour migration program itself.

In addition, caregivers over the past four decades of the program have suffered from the ‘two-step’ immigration system that requires them to finish their employment contracts before being allowed to apply for permanent residency. This has led to profoundly damaging and lasting impacts on the physical and mental health of caregivers and their families. Years of family separation can cause intergenerational conflicts between caregivers and their children as well as family breakdown.

The time has come to make real, meaningful reforms that ensure decent work and security in this core area of the labour market. Caregivers are united in demanding:

  1.  A comprehensive and transparent consultation process to reform the Caregiver Program.
  2.  A new Federal Workers Program – Caregiver Stream that provides caregivers with permanent status on entry and family unity.
  3. Reforms to protect caregivers who are already in Canada and in the backlog to ensure that no one is left behind.

These interim reforms will involve allowing caregivers to come to Canada with their families; eliminating the backlog in caregivers’ permanent residency applications; removing the ‘excessive demand’ provision in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA); regularizing the status of caregivers who have become undocumented; developing immigration criteria that are consistent with what is needed to do the job; and putting an end to the second medical and to excessive educational and language requirements re-introduced in 2014. We particularly urge the creation of an open work permit program as an interim measure.

What’s happening with the Caregiver Program?

What's happening with the Caregiver Program?

Download this flyer, and share with other Caregivers.

The current “Pathways” Caregiver Program was created in November 2014 for five years. It is is set to expire on November 29, 2019. Unless the program changes – no applications for permanent residency will be received after November 29, 2019. 

This is a crisis AND and an opportunity.

The government has promised to review the Caregiver program and make changes before November 29, 2019. If we do nothing – then the Caregiver program could disappear. But if we work together – we may be able to create a better program.

Caregivers: Don’t be afraid. You deserve to be treated with dignity! You deserve permanent resident status!

Right now we need to bring together issues of low-wages, employer abuse, tied work permits, permanent residency backlog and family reunification. We want a new program with permanent status for all migrant workers.

We need to tell the government that we want a new program that gives us permanent status, the ability to move between jobs, and to be reunited with our families. Caregiving is real work, it’s useful, it’s important and Caregivers deserve real worker rights.

Educate yourself on what the government is planning, and get in touch with your local Caregiver organizations to talk about what a new Caregiver program should look like.

Download this flyer, and share with other Caregivers.

Policy Submission: Labour exemptions for Domestic Workers, Homemakers and Residential Care Workers

Policy Submission: Labour exemptions for Domestic Workers, Homemakers and Residential Care Workers

In this phase of Ontario’s exemption review, only eight occupations are being considered: architects, homemakers, domestic workers, residential care workers, IT professionals, managers and supervisors, pharmacists, and superintendents. Migrant Workers Alliance for Change endorses the submissions made by the Workers’ Action Centre and Parkdale Community Legal Services. These submissions will focus on Domestic Workers, Homemakers and Residential Care Workers, as these sectors impact most upon migrant worker labour.

Domestic Workers do the critical work of caring for children, persons with disabilities and older persons. The caregiving sector is reliant on the work of migrant workers, primarily women, who risk their jobs and their hopes of permanent residence in Canada if they complain about violations of their rights. This workforce is overwhelmingly female, racialized, poorly paid and highly precarious. Domestic workers include people with and without regularized immigration status and migrant workers employed through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

The caregiving sector is rife with abuses ranging from unpaid overtime to sexual abuse and racial discrimination. Often working alone in their employer’s home, caregivers need robust employment standards protections, support for collective action to improve their conditions of work, and effective rights enforcement. Ontario’s employment and labour law regimes currently accomplish none of these things.

Domestic Workers are subject to a special minimum wage rule that allows employers to deduct room and board from wages for the purposes of determining whether minimum wage has been paid. This special minimum wage rule is inconsistent with the federal Caregiver Program policies that prohibit employers from charging room and board to live-in caregivers.

When it comes to protections for unionization, Domestic Workers working in private homes are explicitly excluded from the Labour Relations Act and collective bargaining units made up of one person are not permitted.

Caregiver work is in practice very fluid, with movement between residential care homes and live-in caregiving situations. Some are recruited into other types of care work when they experience problems in the federal Caregiver Program, for example when they fall out of status for leaving an abusive workplace and must find a way to support themselves and their families. Because of this fluidity, migrant caregivers are also impacted by two other sectors under review: homemakers and residential care workers.

Caregivers who are considered “homemakers” are exempt from a litany of employment standards including daily and weekly hours of work limits, overtime, daily rest periods, eating periods and time off between shifts or work weeks. They are entitled to wages to a maximum of 12 hours per day of pay, even when they work more. A residential care worker, who cares for children or disabled persons in family-type residential dwellings, does not enjoy minimum protections for hours of work and eating periods (daily and weekly limits on hours of work, mandatory rest periods and eating periods), overtime, and the right to payment for hours worked after 12 hours per day.

None of these exemptions can be justified and we urge Ontario to eliminate them. Instead, Ontario must take the necessary steps to ensure that caregiving work is free of exploitation and abuse, including by implementing the kinds of “broader based bargaining” strategies that would make collective action and worker power a reality for caregivers.

In the next phases of this exemption review, Ontario must prioritize those industries where workers are most vulnerable, including sectors that rely heavily on migrant labour. In particular, we urge Ontario to ensure that the agricultural sector is included in the next phase of the review.

DOWNLOAD THE FULL SUBMISSION HERE: MWAC Exemption Review Phase One – December 2017

Policy Submissions: Open Work Permit Program for Migrant Workers Facing Risk

Policy Submissions: Open Work Permit Program for Migrant Workers Facing Risk

Migrant workers and their support organizations across Canada call on the Federal Government to ensure permanent resident status upon arrival for all migrant workers. The current system of temporary, employer specific work permits leaves labour and human rights beyond the reach of migrant workers in Canada. As an interim step to permanent resident status, we are calling on the Federal Government to create open work permits for all workers.

The Federal Government, however, has begun discussions about creating an open work permit program for workers facing abuse only. Here are submissions on how to make this program effective and responsive.

Click to download: Open Work Permit Program for Migrant Workers Facing Risk

 

Policy Submission: Repeal Section 38(1)(c) of IRPA

Policy Submission: Repeal Section 38(1)(c) of IRPA

Migrant Workers Alliance for Change and Caregivers Action Centre made the following policy submission to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. DOWNLOAD HERE

Our key recommendations on Medical Inadmissibility:

  • Immediately repeal Section 38(1)(c) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
  • Immediately grant permanent residency to everyone who was denied permanent residency on the basis of Section 38(1)(c)  in the last 10 years.

FURTHER RECOMMENDATIONS FOR MIGRANT WORKER RIGHTS

We also urge the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration to develop legislation that:

1) Ensures permanent immigration status for all migrant workers

Status for All, Status on Arrival: All migrant workers must be able to immigrate to Canada as permanent residents immediately, independently and permanently without depending or relying on the sponsorship or good will of their employers or third party agencies. This program should include migrant workers already in Canada, those that have worked here and left and those arriving in the future. Migrant workers who have been granted permanent residency should get comprehensive settlement services that will ensure their success.

  • This recommendation is distinctly separate from a provision of ‘pathway to permanent residency’. A ‘pathway’ is a two-step process that Caregivers had until November 2014 — the current two-streamed program contains a more restrictive pathway — and even then was shown to have the same forms of abuse and vulnerability that are found in other parts of the program.
  • Permanent residency ensures services: Many labour rights and basic services in Canada like healthcare and post-secondary education are tied to permanent immigration status. Migrant workers pay for all these services through taxes and deserve access to them.
  • Permanent residency is the norm: Most immigrants – refugees, spouses, high-waged immigrants – arrive to Canada with permanent resident immigration status, which gives them peace of mind, the ability to re-unite with their families and the tools they need to lay deeper roots and build our society further as soon as they arrive.
  • Permanent residency re-unites families: Landed status on arrival would also allow caregivers to enter Canada with their families, thus eradicating family separation (which averages 6-8 years) while caregivers complete the program and wait for their permanent residence applications to be processed.

2) Ensures access to all social services and benefits

Ensure access to Canada Pension Plan, Employment Insurance and other federal entitlements to migrant workers already in Canada and portable benefits to migrant workers who are no longer here.

 

 

MWAC calls for stronger labour standards for Migrant Workers

MWAC calls for stronger labour standards for Migrant Workers

The Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017 (Bill 148) introduces many important changes to address Ontario’s outdated labour laws. The proposed changes in Bill 148 to the Employment Standards Act (ESA) and Labour Relations Act (LRA) provide a good start to addressing precarious work to deal with changing workplace practices.

However, we join with the Workers Action Centre and Parkdale Community Legal Services in calling for amendments to Bill 148 to ensure it can close the gaps and raise the floor of minimum standards for the highest possible number of workers in Ontario. In particular, we call on the Committee to make the necessary amendments to ensure that workers have notice of their schedules and are compensated when the shift is cancelled at the last minute, and to ensure that the equal pay provisions can meet their goal of alleviating the unfair treatment of part-time and temporary agency workers.

At the same time we urge the government of Ontario to take this opportunity to address the following areas:

  • End employment standards exemptions: Only one quarter of workers in Ontario are completely covered by the minimum standards due to a complex web of exemptions. The proposed legislation does not address these exemptions, instead leaving the issue to a recently announced and  separate process. Many migrant workers fall within these exemptions. The Employment Standards Act sets the floor for the most basic workers’ rights – all workers should enjoy these rights and Bill 148 should simply eliminate exemptions that apply to migrant workers. In the alternative, Bill 148 should be amended to include a narrow definition of the  circumstances in which an exemption will be available in order to better guide the separate review of exemptions.
  • Stop illegal recruitment fees: In 2009, the provincial government took an important step by prohibiting recruitment fees. However, there are ongoing reports of recruiters demanding exorbitant and illegal fees from migrant workers. Effective enforcement and mandatory registration for recruiters and employers is required to ensure that migrant workers can take home their pay.
  • Effective enforcement requires protection from repatriation for migrant workers: The important gains in the proposed legislation will be illusory unless enforcement is strengthened. MWAC welcomes government announcements about significant increases to enforcement resources. We urge the government to consider the particular vulnerabilities faced by migrant workers, who face immediate repatriation by unscrupulous employers if they complain. Working with the federal government to issue open work permits when complaints are made and allowing anonymous complaints would alleviate some barriers to enforcement for migrant workers.
  • Caregivers and agricultural workers must have equal rights to unionize: Unions are the most effective way to ensure fairness and democracy in workplaces. Yet agricultural workers and caregivers – two industries that are rife with abuse – are excluded from the Labour Relations Act and thus have no effective way to unionize. We urge government to accept the recommendations of the Special Advisors and end these unfair exemptions. There is no reason to delay this step to a separate “exemptions review” process.

Millions of workers (and their families) in this province are waiting to see how your committee will pave the way to strengthen Ontario’s archaic labour laws. We are calling on you to reject suggestions that will make work more precarious, under the guise of enabling flexibility for the kind of business practices that continue to exert downward pressure on the wages and working conditions of all of us.

The bulk of evidence shows that decent work is the foundation of a strong economy, better health outcomes, and reduced inequality.

The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change also fully supports the recommendations and amendments put forward in the submissions by: the Workers’ Action Centre, Parkdale Community Legal Services, and the Ontario Federation of Labour as part of the Fight for $15 and Fairness.

DOWNLOAD OUR LETTER HERE

The Right to Unionize for Migrant Workers

The Right to Unionize for Migrant Workers

 

Please read the joint submission by Migrant Workers Alliance for Change and Caregivers Action Centre entitled

Stronger Together:

Delivering on the Constitutionally Protected Right to Unionize for Migrant Workers

This submission was written by Fay Faraday, a member of Migrant Workers Alliance for Change and part of the Equal Pay Coalition.

You can download and read the submission here.

Migrant workers earn low wages and have work permits tied to one employer. This creates a context of rampant abuse and exploitation. Yet they are legally denied the right to unionize and collectively bargain.

Despite the recommendations of the Changes Workplaces Review, the current proposals in Bill 148 do not address or correct the the denial of these fundamental rights to migrant workers.

We are demanding that the exclusion domestic workers, agricultural workers and horticultural workers from the Labour Relations Act must be repealed. We also demand that the Labour Relations Action be reformed to enable broader based bargaining where migrant workers are employed.

For more information about this submission, contact info@migrantworkersalliance.org.

Resources to Mobilize Around Bill 148

Resources to Mobilize Around Bill 148

Migrant Worker Voices Need to be Heard at Committee Hearings: Resources to Make a Difference

It is vital for migrant workers, advocates and allies to support Bill 148 and highlight how it will impact migrant workers in Ontario. At the same time, migrant workers need far more significant changes to ensure decent work. Read our blog and our written submission for facts and analysis about the impacts of the changes for migrant workers.

The importance of this bill for migrant workers is:

  • an increase to the minimum wage could lift migrant workers out of poverty;
  • ten personal emergency leaves (two paid) will mean that migrant workers can take sick days or emergency leaves without fear of losing their jobs;
  • equal pay for equal work (which will benefit seasonal workers).

While more changes are always needed to protect migrant workers around better enforcement, their ability to collectively bargain and more paid emergency leaves, we can support the immediate progressive changes and still mobilize to improve them. But we also need to push back against the backlash, which has been intensifying.

What Can I Do?

Write a Letter to the Editor

Its important for everyday people to give their opinion on the upcoming changes. Short, personal stories often make the best impact. You can respond to a story directly or give an anecdote to why support the changes to Bill 148. Here is an example if you need some inspiration:

Dear Editor,

Your latest story on the impacts of raising the minimum wage neglects one important sector of workers. These workers are often invisible yet they contribute significantly to our economy. They might be harvesting our food or caring for our children and elderly. This work is vital to the functioning of our society, yet these workers are some of the lowest paid workers in Ontario.  Not only do they perform hard work for low wages, but their immigration status puts them in positions of exploitation and abuse. I am speaking of the almost 200,000 temporary foreign workers that work and live in Ontario.

Many commentators are talking about how the changes of the bill will help precarious workers. This is absolutely true for migrant workers. The changes will help a sector of workers that are mostly people of colour trying to lift their families out of poverty. The proposed changes would not only help with wages, but also protect migrant workers if they are sick or need to leave for an emergency. While the bill doesn’t solve everything, it’s a step in the right direction to raise the dignity and working conditions of the people who grow our food and care for our children and elderly.

Migrant workers are important people in our community – their work sustains our health with the produce we consume. They provide care for people most needing care in our society. By supporting the changes to the bill (and fighting for more), it will create more stability and security for the most marginalized in our workforce.

Contact your MPP

Writing or calling your MPP is the best way for them to hear from their constituents. Write or call your MPP to ensure they support the changes and even push them to fight for improvements.

To find a list of MPPs, go here. To find out which electoral riding you are in, enter your address here.

Here are some ideas of what you could say to your MPP:
Hi, my name is [name is optional] ___________________________and I live in your riding of _______________________________.

I am calling because I am excited about the changes to Ontario’s labour laws announced by Premier Kathleen Wynne, in particular the $15 Minimum Wage, the Personal Emergency Leave, and equal pay for equal work

I work with migrant workers who are some of the most precarious workers in this labour market, and know very well that migrant workers need specific protections. While we are optimistic, we also urge you to consider that there is room to extend protections to all workers, including migrant workers. We hope that you will help us by proposing these changes to any upcoming legislation.

  1. $15 Minimum wage for ALL. That means no exemptions from minimum wages for agricultural workers or anyone else.
  2. More Paid Personal Emergency Leave Days. Many migrant workers are at risk of losing their job if they are sick or need to attend to a personal/family matter at home. While having 2 personal emergency leave days is a good start, having seven will help the most precarious workers whose family live outside of Canada.
  3. Enforcement. We need better, more proactive enforcement when employers break the law. We need inspections of the homes that caregivers live and work in. We need a faster process for resolving Employment Standards Act anti-reprisal claims when workers are at risk of being sent back home, and temporary permits while their claims are being processed.

Take to social media

Use the hashtags #MakeItRight, ##15andFairness and ##ONPoli on Twitter and Facebook. Don’t forget to mention any MPPs you want to direct your Tweet.

Don’t forget to tag us on Twitter and Facebook if you are using social media. And send a copy of letters to MPP’s and newspapers to our email info@migrantworkersalliace.org.

For more information on organizing around the hearings and writing a submission, please check out the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign.

Gains and Gaps for Migrant Workers in Ontario’s Proposed New Workers Rights Regime

Gains and Gaps for Migrant Workers in Ontario’s Proposed New Workers Rights Regime

by Sharmeen Khan (Migrant Workers Alliance for Change) and Jackie Esmonde (Income Security Advocacy Centre)

Long hours of work for little pay, the inability to take time off of work when personal emergencies arise, fear that speaking out about abuses will lead to deportation – these are the kinds of working conditions faced by many of the 200,000 temporary foreign workers in Ontario.

The proposed changes to Ontario’s labour laws found in the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act (or Bill 148) have the potential to hugely impact their lives and well-being.

So how does the proposed Bill fare in terms of the lives and workplaces of migrant workers?

A $15 Minimum Wage Will Lift Many Migrant Workers out of Poverty

The Bill takes some important steps to address migrant worker precarity, including progress on personal leaves, and equal pay for temporary and part-time workers. A proposed $15 minimum wage is a cornerstone of this legislation and an important step towards lifting migrant workers out of poverty. Migrant workers are amongst the lowest paid workers in Ontario. They are a disposable workforce of predominantly Black or people of colour, whose skills and lives are seen as having little value.

Poverty in Canada is directly tied to poverty abroad. Migrant workers come to Canada in the hope of escaping poverty and despite their low wages, they send large portion of their earning back to their families.

Here are some other changes that can benefit migrant workers:

  • Ten days job protected personal emergency leave – two of these days will be paid. Employers cannot require medical notes when you are off sick.
  • Equal pay for equal work for seasonal workers – those seasonal workers that are doing a similar job as a full-time or permanent employee will be entitled to the same pay. This also applies to part-time, temporary agency and causal workers.
  • Three hours of pay for cancellation of work shift with less than 2 days’ notice and the right to refuse a shift scheduled with less than 4 days’ notice.

These are important gains that must be protected. At the same time we urge the government of Ontario to take this opportunity to address the following areas:

  • End exemptions: Only one quarter of workers in Ontario are completely covered by the minimum standards due to a complex web of exemptions. The proposed legislation does not address these exemptions, instead leaving the issue to a promised review in the fall. Many migrant workers fall within these exemptions. The Employment Standards Act sets the floor for the most basic workers’ rights – all workers should enjoy these rights. In the alternative, the legislation should strictly define the circumstances in which an exemption will be available.
  • Stop illegal recruitment fees: In 2009, the provincial government took an important step by prohibiting recruitment fees. However, there are ongoing reports of recruiters demanding exorbitant and illegal fees from migrant workers. Effective enforcement and mandatory registration for recruiters and employers is required to ensure that migrant workers can take home their pay.
  • Effective enforcement requires protection from repatriation for migrant workers: The important gains in the proposed legislation will be illusory unless enforcement is strengthened. MWAC welcomes government announcements about significant increases to enforcement resources. We urge the government to consider the particular vulnerabilities faced by migrant workers, who face immediate repatriation by unscrupulous employers if they complain. Working with the federal government to issue open work permits when complaints are made and allowing anonymous complaints would alleviate some barriers to enforcement for migrant workers.
  • Caregivers and agricultural workers must have equal rights to unionize: Unions are the most effective way to ensure fairness and democracy in workplaces. Yet agricultural workers and caregivers – two industries that are rife with abuse – are excluded from the Labour Relations Act and thus have no effective way to unionize. We urge government to accept the recommendations of the Special Advisors and end these unfair exemptions.

If you would like to help improve the working conditions of migrant workers, please go to Migrant Worker Alliance for Change for resources and tool kits. Click for more information on how you can help with the Fight for $15 and Fairness. 

Migrant Workers Deserve Minimum Wage

Migrant Workers Deserve Minimum Wage

IMG_20130906_115635 (1)Migrant Workers Alliance for Change and our member organizations Justice for Migrant Workers, Migrante Ontario, Parkdale Community Legal Services, Social Planning Toronto, Unifor and Workers Action Centre presented to the Ontario Minimum Wage Panel on Friday, September 6th.

We at MWAC fully support calls to increase minimum wage to $14/hour and to be tied to the rate of inflation. At $10.25, the minimum wage forces workers below the poverty line. We support the position of the Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage that the minimum wage should be set 10% above the poverty line, using the Low Income Measure and assuming a 35-hour work week. Furthermore, the minimum wage should be updated every year with the cost of living.

Migrant workers live and work in our communities. A raise in the minimum wage will support the local businesses and communities where they live.  However, under current minimum wage laws, many migrant workers are unable to access minimum wage like their colleagues and neighbours. In our presentation, we clarified that:

(1) Ontarians in the agriculture industry including those deemed migrant workers are excluded from Ontario’s minimum wage laws. This is fundamentally unfair and unjust. All minimum wage exemptions in the Employment Standards Act must be removed.
(2) Many Ontarians that are denied full immigration status by the federal government face legal obstacles that make it impossible for them to assert their right to minimum wage. In our experience, a great number of workers are being denied minimum wage or overtime pay. Specific anti-reprisal laws must be developed and these legal obstacles removed.
(3) Ontario currently does not track employers and recruiter of Ontarians deemed migrant workers and therefore has little enforcement capacity. All employers and recruiters in Ontario must be registered, must be forced to put up lines of credit, and must be held jointly and severally liable for any violations.

Read our full oral submission here.