MWAC support to expand the Human Rights Code

MWAC support to expand the Human Rights Code

A Private Members Bill is proceeding through the Ontario legislature which aims to add ‘immigration status’ as grounds for protection in the Human Rights code.

Here is our letter in support.

If you organization is sending in a letter, please email us at info@migrantworkersalliance.org

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the exclusion domestic workers, agricultural workers and horticultural workers from the Labour Relations Act must be repealed.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. 

Why Is Stephen Harper Sending Domestic Workers Back to 1973?

first published on Huffington Post Canada

It was November 22, 1981. Domestic workers from the Philippines, Caribbean and the UK had gathered in a protest of thousands in downtown Toronto.

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“We scrub the floors, we cook the meals, we raise the children — why aren’t we good enough to stay?” asked Eulene Boyce, a West Indian domestic worker.

“We are here … united in our stand … calling for an end to the system of indentured servitude which, since 1973, has denied over 60,000 domestic workers the right to landed status in Canada,” added a spokesperson for INTERCEDE (International Coalition to End Domestics’ Exploitation)

Four days later, on November 26, then-Immigration Minister Lloyd Axworthy, bowing to nearly a decade of mobilizing by immigrant women, created a path for domestic workers to gain permanent residency.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper turned back the clock.

As of November 30, only 5,500 domestic workers will have the right to apply for permanent residency each year. All the rest, just like those 60,000 between 1973 and 1981 will be rejected. Likely, many will be deported.

And what is this world of 1973 that Harper is sending us back to? To understand it, we have to go back a little further. Domestic workers started coming into Canada around 1901. They arrived with full citizenship rights. That was perfectly OK for decision makers because at that time Canada had a Whites-only immigration policy, and most of these workers were of European descent.

Domestic workers of colour from the Caribbean and the Philippines started arriving in the late 40s, and unlike their white counterparts were largely denied citizenship rights. Following the end of White-only immigration policy in 1967, new policies were created in 1973 that denied permanent residency to domestic workers. 1973 was the also the year when the roots of the current Temporary Foreign Worker Program were laid. Thus the creation of the “temporary” migrant worker programs were at their very core a policy rooted in racist exclusion. And that’s exactly where the clock is being turned to today.

The shutting out of thousands of racialized women from permanent immigration status is being strangely spun as a step forward. Immigration Minister Chris Alexander insisted, “We are saying to the whole Canadian population, to caregivers above all, the time of abuse and vulnerability is over”.

Fay Faraday, a lawyer and visiting professor at Osgoode Hall Law School who has written leading reports on migrant worker rights, disagrees, “Access to permanent residence has become precarious and unpredictable. Workers won’t know at the outset whether they are on a route to permanence or a revolving door of temporariness. This will leave them considerably more vulnerable than they were before.”

Migrante Canada, a cross-Canada alliance of migrant groups, added, “Migrant workers will continue to endure low wages, difficult working conditions and family separation in the hope of becoming a permanent resident, but their dreams will not be realized.”

The policies coming into force are accompanied by Harper and Alexander acceding to a long-term demand of Caregivers — the forced requirement to live in employers homes is now voluntary.

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But Caregivers are not fooled. As Caregiver Action Centre organizer, and former Live-In Caregiver Liza Draman explained, “The only thing that is good about the announcement is the end to the live-in requirement. If the minister is serious about improving the condition for the caregivers, he should grant them status upon arrival.”

Poet, activist and feminist researcher Salimah Valiani explains that the end of Live-In requirement is not all it seems. “Many migrant caregivers may elect to live with employers given that carework is poorly remunerated. Living independently is costly when added to other obligations typically carried by migrant workers including recruitment fees and remitting money to family back home.”

Even though Caregivers won the right to permanent residency in 1981, the fight hasn’t entirely been won. Excessive requirements were placed on those applying for residency. A series of intense organizing efforts led to the easing of some of these restrictions but permanent residency is still difficult to access. Restrictive and exclusionary provincial laws add to the injustice, denying protections from recruiters, health and safety benefits and access to effective protections from reprisals to Caregivers who are on provisional temporary immigration status for 4-10 years.

“Caregivers are right up against the wall when it comes to completing the required number of work hours within 48 months,” notes Geraldine Pratt, professor of feminist geographies at the University of British Columbia. “If they become ill or need to change employers, they may end up staying with the last employer, regardless of abuse and exploitation, in order to complete the program requirements and apply for permanent resident status.”

While the requirements have meant that many Caregivers could not access permanent residency already, what changes today is that even if Caregivers fulfill the exclusionary requirements, they may be barred from permanent residence.

But Caregivers are not giving up hope. Caregiver organizer Pura Velasco who has been actively working for Caregiver rights since 1989 insists, “We are resilient and strong. Caregivers will continue to stand up and fight for status and respect, no matter how long it takes us. Open the door!”

Fear of Migrant Workers Is Xenophobia

first published on Huffington Post

There has been massive media attention on the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP) in the last few weeks. Mainstream and social media is full of analysis and solutions. Some critics and commentators insist that the only appropriate way forward is shutting down the low-skilled temporary foreign worker program. They are wrong.

With increased workplace uncertainty, as permanent jobs disappear and the public sector shrinks, many are looking around for culprits to blame. Though migrant workers and the TFWP seems like an easy target, it isn’t.

Its important to analyze the key arguments being made about the TFWP.

1: Migrant workers are pushing Canadians out of jobs and taking jobs from unemployed Canadians.

News outlets and commentators have reported how the total numbers of migrant workers entering the country make up one quarter (some say three quarters) of new jobs created in Canada, thus suggesting that migrant workers are taking jobs from young workers. The news media is full of a few cases where migrant workers are replacing citizen workers. This is missing the forest for the trees.

There were between 76,711 – 230,379 low-skilled migrant workers in Canada at the end of 2012 — making them 0.0042 per cent — 0.013 per cent of the labour force (the large discrepancy between the figures is because 153,668 workers’ occupational classification is not reported on by Immigration Canada). Of these about 35,000 worked in the agriculture sector, while another 19,830 were live-in caregivers.

There are officially 1.35 million unemployed Canadians in the country (real unemployment is likely twice as high). Even if all migrant workers were excluded there would be at least 1.1 million unemployed Canadian citizens left.

Communities with the highest levels of unemployment — like Nunvaut — have relatively few migrant workers. And regions with the lowest rate of unemployment — that is Alberta — has the highest number of migrant workers coming in. There is no generalized replacement of citizen workers by migrant workers.

Add to that its well know that migrant workers are often replacing other migrant workers — like on southwestern Ontario farms where migrant workers have been coming since the mid-1960s.

Secondly, migrant workers are often coming in to jobs that were previously also occupied by new immigrants – these are the low-paying jobs in gas stations, retail and manufacturing that newcomers work in to get a leg-up. It’s the same demographic of people — racialized, young and middle-aged newcomers — who are working these jobs. Except now, they will be deported after a few years rather than build a life here. Immigrants have always formed a critical part of Canada’s workforce — only now they are here temporarily.

There is absolutely no evidence that says that shutting out migrant workers would mean that employers would hire young Canadian citizens. That’s because there is a major disconnect between labour, education and training policy in the country. What is needed is government support for skills training, as well as income security — not migrant worker exclusion.

2. Employers and corporations are using migrant workers to keep wages low

The only reason migrant workers can be paid less, and exploited more is because of two-tiered federal and provincial laws, and legal limitations on collective organizing. In Ontario, for example, provincial law excludes many migrant workers fromminimum wage, occupational health and safety guarnatees, and even the landlord-tenancy act protections based on their occupational classifications.

Shutting down the TFWP would not mean that the employers would immediately raise wages for Canadian workers. Lobbyists for fast-food restaurants like McDonalds, for example, have been advocating against minimum wage increases in Ontario. They might choose to move jobs to other regions in the world, to advocate for moregovernment subsidies and tax cuts , or to pass down increased costs to consumers, or do all of the above.

Many argue that migrant workers cause a downward pressure on wages and work conditions — therefore uplifting and empowering them is the only way to improve conditions for all.

3: Migrant workers are less likely to stand up against abuse

Migrant workers are less likely to stand up to abuse because they have more to lose when speaking out. The real culprit here is the law that ties migrant workers to an employer, and gives employers immense power to deport people at whim. The simple solution to that then is full immigration status on landing which would remove the coercive power employers and recruiters hold. It’s also important to note that despite these limitations, migrant workers have organized, including mass rallies, speaking out against recruitment fees , fighting back against employer abuse and more.

At a time when all the provinces are cutting resources from labour departments responsible for keeping corporations in check, abuse already encompasses citizen workers. It’s not about abolishing the TFWP, it’s about ensuring real labour protections for all.

4: Corporations are breaking the law by hiring temporary foreign workers.

Many have said that the temporary foreign worker program is being used illegally. That the TFWP is supposed to be a short-term labour shortage fix, and employers are making it otherwise. This is a profound misunderstanding of Canadian and global immigration policy.

Since 1978, more people have entered Canada on a temporary basis then on a permanent basis. This is not a new story, and there is no simple solution — like shutting down the TFWP.

Since Harper came in to power in 2006, temporariness has been entrenched throughout the immigration system. It’s not just that there are more temporary migrant workers, now parents, grandparents and spouses also come in temporarily.Refugees and permanent residents face many different ways where their status can be revoked — making them also temporary.

This is the new global face of immigration with most “countries” expanding their guestworker programs, a regime that is being pushed at the United Nations level.

The entire immigration system — not just the temporary foreign worker program — is determined by corporate interests. The new expression of interest system is controlled by employers. Referred to as an “online dating” system, employers cherry pick from immigrant applicants to fast-track who can come here permanently. Only workers from 24 occupations can apply.

Corporations aren’t breaking the intent of the law. Temporary immigration is the law of Canada and the global norm. The solution is not to slam the door shut on migrant workers. Or even, as some progressives insist, to simply expand the permanent immigration system. That would just mean more corporate-driven immigration. Poor and racialized workers (so-called “low-skilled workers”) that make up the TFWP, must be able come to Canada freely with full immigration status on landing, including the ability to reunite with their families. We need to openly contest the factors that force people to move, and create systems of migration that are people, not corporate-driven. We need status for undocumented migrants now.

What lies beneath

Unlike stories of the deaths of migrant workers like Ned Peart,healthcare denial,racist policing, or mass exploitation like in the Presteve Case, it seems to be that its only stories pitting migrants against “Canadians” that get national attention.

The use of incorrect statistics and skewed economic arguments to demand the exclusion of Temporary Foreign Workers by people all along the political spectrumhearkens to a lengthy history of exclusion of immigrants from Canada. While in the past racist headlines read “Immigrants are taking Canadian jobs,” now they insist “Foreign workers are taking Canadian jobs.” What’s the difference?

There is more afoot here, its xenophobia and it must be challenged. It is important that we do not repeat the injustices of the past. Full immigration status for all, full rights for all workers is the only way forward. Resist attempts to divide unemployed, migrant, and poor people.

Amar Bhatia reports back from UN HLD, PGA, IAMR

Amar Bhatia reports back from UN HLD, PGA, IAMR

On behalf of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC), I appreciated the opportunity provided by the Canadian Labour Congress, to attend the recent meetings in New York City in and around the UN High Level Dialogue (HLD) on Migration and International Development.

I spent my time between the two outside events: the People’s Global Action (PGA) on Migration, Development, and Human Rights, and the International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees (IAMR 4).

I was there representing MWAC (formerly Coalition for Change), which is ‪a coalition of migrant workers and allied organizations made up of community groups (Justice for Migrant Workers, Caregivers Action Center, and Migrante Ontario), national unions (UFCW, Unifor), legal clinics (Parkdale Community Legal Services, Windsor Legal) and others.  However, these comments are just a few, quick personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Alliance or individual Alliance members. (more…)

12 recommendations to end migrant and undocumented worker poverty in Ontario.

12 recommendations to end migrant and undocumented worker poverty in Ontario.
The Government of Ontario is organizing a consultation on its poverty reduction strategy.Community groups have long demanded good jobs, a liveable income, minimum wage increases, and a raise in social welfare rates to pull Ontarians out of poverty. Communities need and demand decent transit, strong public programs and a commitment to social justice and equity. Many insist that Ontario must invest resources and set targets that reduce poverty for everyone, prioritizing children, families, and communities, not austerity. We at the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change Agree.
But we know that most of the 350,000 Ontarians who are migrant workers and undocumented people don’t get minimum wage, overtime pay, OW, ODSP, social housing, full healthcare or social service programs. Few migrant and undocumented workers can reunite with their families, and those that do are denied the most basic rights and protections. Ontario must do more to end migrant and undocumented workers poverty.

12 easy steps!

For too long non-status and migrant worker Ontarians have been pushed aside. This time, let’s make it right. Here are 12 easy short-terms steps Ontario could take to address migrant and undocumented worker poverty: (more…)

What Will the Minister of Labour Do for Migrant Workers?

Dear Mr Naqvi,

We have some things in common. I read that you came to Canada from Pakistan in your early teens. I immigrated in my early teens too, except I moved to Pakistan. My father, you see, was a migrant worker in Dubai and, after living there for decades, my family was forced to separate.

Moving to a new city, learning new ways, and making new friends must have been hard for you — it definitely was for me. In some ways we are different, since your family came here in search of safety, while my family moved because the country we lived in wanted our labour, but not us.

And that’s what I’m writing to you about. As you take up the position of Minister of Labour for Ontario, will you be thinking about all the workers here, or just the ones that hold the passport of your adopted country?

Please make sure Mr Naqvi reads this, email it to him at ynaqvi.mpp.co@liberal.ola.org (more…)

The Great Tory Rip-Off of Migrant Workers

First published on the Huffington Post on December 18, 2012

Today is the International Migrants Day. On Dec 18, 1990, 22 years ago, the UN passed the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. No migrant-receiving country, including Canada, has ratified this convention.

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Just last week, Federal Human Resources Minister Finley took away special E.I. benefits from migrant workers through a quiet Thursday afternoon regulatory change. She did this assuming that most people wouldn’t notice. Just to add insult to injury, she cut these benefits that were won after years of protest by the women’s movement, on December 6 — the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

This isn’t just a mean-spirited move, or a lump of coal as a Christmas gift to migrant workers as theToronto Star notes, it is part of a long-term strategy to take away basic support from all unemployed workers, irrespective of immigration status. Migrant workers, seen as the most vulnerable, are just the test case. If these benefits aren’t restored, and E.I. not expanded for migrant workers now, the axe on all E.I. benefits for all workers will fall far more swiftly and painfully then it already has.

Just in 2008, migrant workers and their employers paid an estimated 300-million dollars in to E.I. but were only able to access some paternal, maternal and compassionate benefits. Now even that has been made off-limits. This while, the numbers of temporary workers contributing in to E.I. premiums has gone up by nearly 17 per cent since 2008.

This theft of migrant workers’ hard earned money takes place in a year where Canadians laws are already stacked up against them. In Canada, it is legal to pay migrant workers 5-15 per cent below the average — a total jettisoning of the age old consensus of equal pay for equal work. Recruiters run amok, charging migrant workers thousands of dollars while provincial laws do little to end this exploitation. Migrant workers are often unable to get full social services or access basic health, and safety protections. Those that fall sick or complain face deportations.

In a press release by MWAC member Justicia for Migrant Workers, Junior Sylvester a 12-year veteran of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program says

“The elimination of these special benefits violates the nature of the Employment Insurance act that was put into place to protect our families and our children from falling into poverty.”

Adriana Paz Ramirez, an organizer for Justicia for Migrant Workers agrees, adding “For over 40 years migrant workers have been subsidizing Canada’s E.I. fund yet have been ‘ineligible’ to receive full benefits, and now they are being completely stripped away from the few special benefits they were able to access. This is completely unjust and outrageous.” (See Justicia’s call for actions, including a vigil in Toronto today, here).

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (also a member of MWAC) launched a petition against these cuts, insisting “It is the Great Tory Ripoff of Migrant Workers. It is like being forced to buy mandatory auto insurance but you are excluded from coverage.”

The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) has noted how migrant workers were again being treated differently then workers with citizenship. The CLC noted: “The Minister did not mention that Canadians and permanent resident workers who pay into the E.I. system are able to access maternity/paternity benefits when they reside out of the country.”

The Canadian parliament isn’t exactly the pinnacle of democratic process right now (case in point: the massive budget bill that was pushed through Commons earlier last week despite immense opposition), but it must be noted that the banning of migrant workers from E.I. benefits they paid for happened without being discussed in the Commons.

Much of public policy is being set by press release and through decisions summarily announced on the government’s online website. Remember how tens of thousands of refugees had their healthcare cut — that was a regulatory change. You know how women are forced to stay in marriages for two years to get citizenship — regulatory change.

Harper’s Ministers have been summarily amassing powers for themselves. Jason Kenney, one of the key architects of our current temporary immigration system, has given himself unilateral power to decide which refugees should be indefinitely jailed and which shouldn’t. Trying to keep up with him, Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Diane Finley has amassed special powers for herself to define what constitutes “suitable employment” for E.I. claimants, and to define “reasonable and customary efforts” to find work.

Claimants can be cut off benefits if they decline “suitable employment” and do not make “reasonable and customary efforts” to find work. This includes taking jobs at wages 30 per cent below what they were previously earning. The expansion of the temporary foreign workers program, theft of E.I. benefits from migrant workers and Canadian citizens alike, are all part of one “cheap labour” strategy.

Diane Finley and Kenney think they can get away with this program, simply because no one is paying attention, the question is, are they right? Soon after the E.I. changes were announced, migrant worker organizing escalated. Migrant workers themselves organized an educational seminar for non-migrant workers about the impact of these E.I. cuts in Southern Ontario, while many MWAC members issued statements and organized actions. Migrant workers and their allies are demanding justice, status, dignity and full rights, and we are creating those as a reality in our communities.

As one migrant worker in Leamington said when the E.I. benefits were first announced,

“It doesn’t matter our race, our colour, or the country we come from. United we fight for our rights. United we are strong.”