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the exclusion domestic workers, agricultural workers and horticultural workers from the Labour Relations Act must be repealed.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

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

Starting this week, the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs will be hearing oral presentations on the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act (or Bill 148). It is vital for migrant workers, advocates and allies to vocalize how this bill will impact migrant workers in Ontario. If you have signed up to depute, please 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

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

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.

Exemptions Continue to Leave Migrant Workers Unprotected

The power of employment standards are their universality; that they guarantee basic standards that cannot be violated. But many migrant workers, particularly agricultural workers, are excluded from minimum wage guarantees, hours of work standards, overtime pay, vacation pay and breaks.

Bill 148 does nothing to address those exemptions that disproportionately exclude many of the most precarious of workers from protection.

While the Ontario government has promised to review exemptions in the fall, supporters of migrant workers need to put the heat on the government to end the exemptions.    

Stronger Enforcement Means Stronger Protection

Worker rights are only as strong as a worker’s ability to enforce them. Migrant workers face enormous barriers, because of the threat of deportation if they complain. While the government has committed to increasing resources for enforcement, more steps need to be taken to remove these barriers, including a robust system of proactive enforcement and avenues for anonymous reporting.

The Ontario government must work with the federal government to ensure that workers are protected from deportation while employment standards complaints are being investigated. Issuing open work permits while a case is being investigated would ensure that workers are not punished to live in deep poverty while they seek justice.

Migrant Workers Still Cannot Collectively Bargain to Improve Their Working Conditions

One of the best ways to help vulnerable workers in precarious jobs is to expand access to unions. Bill 148 does nothing to address the fact that agricultural workers and caregivers have no effective way to unionize and collectively bargain changes to their workplaces. 

Ending Labour Unfairness

The Temporary Foreign Worker Program has created a separate system of labour where some workers are denied the basic rights enjoyed by other workers in Canada. This system has disastrous impacts for migrant workers and their ability to work with dignity. While we continue our fight for permanent status on arrival, a necessary step that will allow migrant workers to leave abusive employers, we need to fight at the provincial level to ensure that employment standards apply to all equally.

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. For more information on how you can help with the Fight for $15 and Fairness, join the Summer Campaign Kickoff!

Ensuring Migrant Worker Fairness

Ensuring Migrant Worker Fairness

migrant-work-is-precarious-work_sm2There hasn’t been a comprehensive change of labour laws in Ontario in over thirty years. So we have a once in a generation opportunity to improve rights for migrant workers.

According to the interim report just released by the Ontario government’s special advisors the cumulative costs of labour law exemptions and special rules for minimum wage, overtime pay, holiday pay, and vacation pay are associated with a potential loss of approximately $45 million to Ontario employees each week.

The report released by the special advisors proposes options for change to laws – some of the options could hurt migrant workers, and some could greatly benefit them.

The deadline for responses is October 14th. Now is the time for many of us to insist that migrant workers in Ontario must be included in all labour laws, and must be protected from reprisals and recruiter fees.

To help you do so, we have prepared a template document that you can use to draft your own recommendations. Click here to download.

You can also download a comprehensive analysis of the recommendations by Workers Action Centre and PCLS here too.

At the very least, we encourage you to send the special advisors a letter urging them to accept our recommendations. We need to show that there is a large number of groups that want decent work for migrant workers. You can download a sample letter here

Here are some of the positive options, the Special Advisors have laid out that we need to make sure end up in the final recommendation, and eventually become law:
  • Just cause protection: We can ensure that migrant workers aren’t fired without cause.
  • Migrant worker specific anti-reprisal protections: Employers can repatriate (deport) migrant workers if they complain. Only 22% of reprisals complaints go through, but the percentage for migrant workers is far lower, we can change that.
  • Proactive enforcement measures: 61% of migrant worker employers inspected in the most recent Ontario Minister of Labour blitz (June, 2016) were found to be breaking labour laws. This while Caregiver employers were not inspected at all. We can expand proactive enforcement measures.
  •  Give Agriculture workers and Caregivers collective bargaining rights
  •  At the same time, we will continue to raise our voice to call for an end to all exclusions and ask for comprehensive recruiter regulations.
 Now is the time.

Visiting Members of Provincial Parliament

Migrants Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC) is organizing Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) visits for constituency week Nov 4th– 10th 2016.

The issues:

There is an opportunity right now to push the Ontario governments to make meaningful changes that are needed to ensure justice and dignity for migrant workers.

The Changing Workplace Review is making recommendations to ensure that laws about employment and unionization meet the needs of all workers, especially those in the most precarious jobs. We need to make sure that laws are introduced that address the particular barriers to workplace safety and fairness faced by migrant workers, including regulating recruiters and ending the exclusions from minimum work standards and collective bargaining.

Our ask of you:

Visit your local Member of Provincial Parliament!

Register to visit your local MPP below.

We want to make sure that a delegation meets with MPPs across Ontario during the next constituency week: November 4 – 10.

Once you have registered, please contact your MPP and request an appointment on November 4th, or November 7th to the 10th.

We have lots of supports to offer you:

  • MPP Lobby kits:
  • An in-depth training 2pm – 4pm, Monday, October 24th to help you with how to organize the meeting, who should attend and what to say. We will come right to your computer! Register below.
  • Social media tips and tools
  • Telephone and email support


Migrant Workers deserve decent work

Migrant Workers deserve decent work

MWAC - Equal WagesDownload a flyer here and share it with your friends, and colleagues

Migrant workers are part of our communities, where they live, work, shop and build relationships.

They are not “foreigners”, they are part of Ontario’s work force, and they are part of our labour market. Their participation in our decent work movement is crucial to our ability to win.

Unfortunately, bad employers and some journalists have pitted migrant workers against unemployed and underemployed Ontario workers. But instead of fighting at the bottom of the barrel for bad jobs, we must unite to increase rights for everyone and improve all our working conditions.

Most migrant workers are in jobs that they have done for generations. Domestic workers have been coming to Canada since the 1800s, and this is the 50th year of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program. This isn’t about a short-term labour shortage, migrant work is permanent, and it is time they have the same rights as everyone else.

MWAC - Work Without Fees 2Migrant workers work some of the most dangerous and difficult jobs in Ontario, with some of the lowest wages and protections.

It’s no accident that many of the industries that are primarily made up of migrant workers are exempted from the Employment Standards Act. As a result, migrant workers are denied basic protections under the law, such as minimum wages, hours of work and more. When one industry is exempted from providing basic minimum standards, other employers want similar exemptions and loopholes.
This helps explain why today less than 25% of all workers are fully protected by the minimum standards in the ESA. This is a vivid example of how an injury to one becomes and injury to all.

The vast majority of Ontarians agree that we need rules that protect us all. We need specific changes in Ontario for migrant workers so that they can raise their voice and get the rights they deserve.

The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change has identified the following needed changes to Ontario’s labourMWAC - A Strong Voice laws

  1. Migrant workers deserve the same rights as everyone else. There should be no special rules and exemptions by occupation.
  1. Labour laws must be proactively enforced and community members must be able to complain about bad bosses.
  1. Migrant workers need special anti-reprisal protections including their staying in the country while their complaints are being processed.
  1. Agriculture workers and Caregivers must be able to unionize and bargain collectively and sectorally.
  1. There should be no fees for work. Recruiters need to be licenced and migrant worker employers registered. These registries need to be public. Employers and recruiters need to be jointly financially liable for all fees paid to work by migrant workers. Joint liability must include any fees paid at any point in recruitment process.

Submissions to Gender Wage Gap Strategy Committee

Submissions to Gender Wage Gap Strategy Committee

Read in full HERE.

To understand how the gender wage gap affects women migrant workers it is important, first, to understand who women migrant workers are and what are the social dynamics that characterize their precarity in Ontario. Second, it is important to understand the legal frameworks that institutionalize their precarity in ways that very predictably leave them subject to intense gender discrimination, wage theft and other rights violations that deepen the wage gap. Third, it is important to recognize that these dynamics of systemic discrimination demand a response that is equally systemic and multi-dimensional. A wide range of changes need to be made and need to work together to eliminate the precarity that enables and sustains employer behaviour that impoverishes migrant women workers.

In the case of agricultural workers, research and anecdotal evidence from our member organizations has shown that many women participating in the program are single mothers from rural regions who have limited economic opportunities in their home communities. (Encalada Grez, 2011). In the case of domestic workers, research and anecdotal evidence from our member organizations has shown that women are single mothers, or married but in either case are primary caregivers.

Women migrant workers that we work with see labour migration as a survival strategy that provides opportunities to support themselves and their families that are impossible to access in their home contexts which are often characterized by unemployment, underemployment, underdevelopment, civil unrest and/or home governments that have actively adopted labour export policies as their dominant economic strategy. This effectively forces women into migration for work and produces a precarity that means women can be coerced into enduring profoundly discriminatory treatment because of their need to maintain the employee relationship while in Canada. Research found that women in agriculture try to keep their jobs in Canada by increasing their productivity, attempting to outperform men and sometimes acquiescing to exploitative and sub-standard working and living conditions (Encalada Grez, 2011).

While in Canada, employers exert an astonishing intrusive degree of surveillance and supervision over women migrant workers’ non-working time. This surveillance and supervision exceeds even that imposed on male migrant workers and includes imposing stricter curfews, asserting greater control over their living conditions, and controlling social interactions. Romantic relationships are sometimes explicitly prohibited via contracts, and often implicitly prohibited. Pregnancy may result in termination or preclude a worker from being invited back in to the program. Harassment and violence by male co-workers and male employers often goes unreported. Harassment and violence as a result of the joint nexus of gender, racialization, and lack of permanent immigration status in towns, cities and communities where migrant workers are is also largely unreported.

The cumulative effects of these constraints gravely impacts women migrant workers wages that are often paid below or at minimum wage, lower than both their male counterparts and Canadian citizens. As the Closing the Gender Wage Gap: A Background Paper notes, racialized women face a gender wage gap of 36.8%. Additionally, we are aware that migrant workers, most of whom are restricted to working in low-waged industries or unable to assert their rights as a result of being undocumented, earn the absolute least amount of wages. While we have not been able to do a comprehensive analysis of the wages of migrant workers vis-à-vis the broader workforce, it is certain that racialized women with temporary or no immigration status earn even less than racialized women in general.

When looking at the legal frameworks, it is clear that the gender wage gap for women migrant workers is driven by a number of systemic dynamics that subject women migrant workers to low pay and that subject them to widespread practices of wage theft and other violations of workplace rights which deepen their wage disparity and isolation in the labour market.

Read in full HERE.

Meet Your MPP

Meet Your MPP

Here is a step-by-step guide to meeting with you MPP.

Memo on Migrant workers and Ontario’s labour laws HERE



Migrant worker policy submissions to the Changing Workplace Review

Migrant worker policy submissions to the Changing Workplace Review

Across Ontario migrant worker allies issued recommendations to the Special Advisors of the Changing Workplaces Review calling for swift reforms to the Employment Standards Act and the Ontario Labour Relations Act.

Download and read them here.

  • Submissions from the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change HERE
  • Submissions from Justice for Migrant Workers HERE
  • Submissions from the Caregivers Action Centre HERE
  • Submissions from Fuerza Puwersa HERE
  • Submissions from Toronto Workers Health and Safety Legal Clinic HERE
  • Submissions from Dr. Jenna Hennebry, Dr. Janet McLaughlin and Dr. Kerry Preibisch HERE
  • Submissions from Erinn Burke, Northumberland County HERE

Support your neighbours: Migrant Workers and Ontario Labour Laws

Support your neighbours: Migrant Workers and Ontario Labour Laws

The Ontario government is reviewing labour laws in the province. Over the summer and fall of 2015, the public is invited to make recommendations to improve these laws. It’s important that these changes support all workers, including migrant workers.

This is a critical moment to build awareness about migrant worker concerns. We know that our friends and neighbours in the Temporary Foreign Workers, Seasonal Agricultural Workers and Caregivers Programs have fewer rights and live in greater fear than other Ontarians. Now we need to make sure that everyone else in the province knows it too.

We have created a simple two page flyer that you can distribute at events, get in to the hands of labour allies, and place prominently at your office. You can download it directly here: