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: http://www.migrantworkersalliance.org/meet-your-mpp/
  • 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:


Ontario Immigration Act – Submission to Standing Comittee

Ontario Immigration Act - Submission to Standing Comittee

Submission by Migrant Workers Alliance for Change to Standing Committee on Justice Policy of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario

April 16, 2015

A comprehensive recruiter regulation system in Ontario requires legislation that is designed with a view to ending the practice of migrant workers paying fees to work in Ontario. Specific measures to this end include:

  1. Require compulsory licensing of all recruiters working in Ontario with a financial bond: Currently anyone can recruit migrant workers in Canada or abroad, charge them large fees, and either put them in contact with a Canadian employer or walk away without actually providing the job they promised. To counter the abuses inherent in this system, all recruiters in Ontario must be licensed, the list of licensed recruiters should be easily accessible online to migrant workers around the world, and the licensing should include a financial bond.
  2. Require compulsory registration of all migrant worker employers in Ontario: Employers choose which recruiters they work with, and are often aware of the fees being paid by migrant workers overseas or in Ontario. As such, as effective recruitment regulation process requires knowing which employers hire migrant workers in the province. Currently, Ontario depends on the federal government’s willingness to share information about employers that hire migrant workers. A compulsory and robust employer registration system is required for effective recruiter regulation.
  3. Hold recruiters and employers jointly financially liable for violating labour protections: This practice is already the law in Manitoba and other provinces and ensures that responsibility for violations is not passed to recruiters abroad. Instead, employers should be held accountable for working with appropriate recruiters (who should be licensed in Ontario) to ensure that migrant workers do not face abuse. This practice ensures predictability and certainty for employers, recruiters and migrant workers.

Click HERE to read our full submissions.

Healthcare for Migrant Workers

Healthcare for Migrant Workers

Marites Angana died on December 02, 2014. As a domestic worker, she was excluded from the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which means that she did not have the same rights to refuse work, and no Ministry of Labour investigation will take place in to her death. Marites death is not an anomaly. Migrant workers arrive in Ontario having passed multiple health checks, and many return home sick, and injured, sometimes dead. Just last week, the Toronto Star did an in-depth story on Winston Morrisson who worked in Canada as a Seasonal Agricultural Worker. He was sent home with a leg injury, and lack of adequate health care supports means that he was forced to have his leg amputated.

It is time for such tragedies to end. Its time that migrant workers work in healthy jobs, not in those that make them sick. With that in mind, I am outlining some key issues that migrant workers face in accessing health care, and an initial set of recommendations for legislative and regulatory reform. I have focused on some key asks, but am happy to provide supporting research, documentation and worker information that led to the development of these.

The four three areas in reference to health care are:

  1. Occupational Health and Safety Act
  2. Access to Health Services
  3. Workplace Safety Insurance Board
  4. Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program.

Click HERE to download the MWAC’s letter to the Ontario Premier’s Office.

Ontario Immigration Act

Ontario Immigration Act

On November 26, 2014, the Ontario Liberals re-introduced the Ontario Immigration Act (Bill 49). The Bill is now in its Second Reading. Debate will recommence some time after the Members of Provincial Parliament (MPP) return to the Ontario legislature on February 17, 2014. This is an initial analysis of the Ontario Immigration Act. We will be releasing more information in mid-February.

While this legislation is framed as an ‘Ontario Immigration Act’, it provides no real rights, benefits or access to immigration status for low-waged migrant workers in Ontario. It does not effectively free migrant workers from fees, or regulate unscrupulous recruiters. As it stands, the Ontario Immigration Act is designed to facilitate recruitment of high-waged migrants to Ontario in line with the new Federal Express Entry immigration system and develop provincial temporary immigration programs.

If passed, the Ontario Immigration Act would:

  • Give Ontario the power to create its own temporary or permanent immigration programs, provided the Federal Government agrees to their creation.
  • Give Ontario the power to create a registry of employers that hire within these new Ontario-determined programs. The registries are not compulsory.
  • Give Ontario the power to create a registry of recruiters who refer migrants to employment in these Ontario-determined programs. This registry would not include immigration consultants who are often recruiters, and is not compulsory.
  • Give Ontario the power to create an inspections and investigations department that will have powers two years from the date this Act comes into force. These investigators have entry, search, seizure and fine levying powers to ensure that:
    • Unregistered recruiters do not recruit migrant workers to Ontario’s programs
    • Unauthorized immigration representatives do not work in Ontario; and
    • Recruiters and representatives follow required protocols if and when they are registered.
  • Allow Ontario to share information about employers and recruiters with other provincial and federal agencies, provided that registries are created.
  • Give Ontario the power to fund non-governmental bodies to promote settlement and integration of immigrants. No actual funding is guaranteed.
  • Give the Minister of Immigration and the Government the power to make subsequent changes Ontario’s immigration policy by regulation, and without having to table new laws.

The Ontario Immigration Act does not legislate changes, it instead grants the government the power to implement reforms should it decide to do so. Moving key reforms into the realm of regulations, rather than legislation, further distances them from public scrutiny and influence. The Ontario Immigration Act is a missed opportunity for creating meaningful recruitment regulations in Ontario, and ignores best practices being developed in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and elsewhere.

For the recruiter and employer registry aspects of the Ontario Immigration Act to work, the Ontario Immigration Act must be transformed with a view to ending the practice of migrant workers paying fees to work in Ontario. Specific measure to this end include:

  1. Require compulsory licensing of all recruiters working in Ontario with a financial bond: Recruiters charge migrant workers thousands of dollars, and seize documents from them to connect them with employers in Ontario. A robust licensing system, with a financial bond is necessary to end this practice.
  2. Require compulsory registration of all migrant worker employers in Ontario: Ontario depends on the federal government’s willingness to share information about employers that hire migrant workers. A compulsory and robust registration is system is necessary for accountability when fees are illegally charged from workers.
  3. Hold recruiters and employers jointly financially liable for violating labour protections: This practice is already the law in Manitoba and other provinces and ensures that responsibility for violations is not passed to recruiters abroad. Instead employers should be held accountable for working with appropriate recruiters (who should be licensed in Ontario) to ensure that migrant workers do not face abuse.
  4. Use employer and recruiter registries to uphold labour rights: Recruiter and employer registries should sit within the Ministry of Labour that has the expertise and the legal status to enforce employment standards, ensuring that migrant workers are not charged fees, and that their rates of pay and conditions of work meet Ontario’s minimum standards.

The Ontario Immigration Act should also include access to Permanent Residency for low-wage workers.

  1. Ontario is one of the few provinces where the provincial immigration nominee program explicitly excludes low-waged workers. A fair Ontario Immigration Act would provide provincial access to permanent residency to workers of all skill levels, including low-wage, often deskilled & de-professionalized migrant workers.

The current legislative framework in Ontario is a web of exclusions that prevent migrant workers from accessing equal wages, decent housing, healthy jobs, protection from abusive recruiters and employers and the ability to enforce their rights. It is time for a comprehensive look at all provincial legislations that impact the lives and working conditions of migrant workers. It is time for comprehensive legislation that:

  1. Prioritizes the right to immigration status on landing for migrant workers: Ontario should push for permanent immigration status for all migrant workers who build, feed, and care for Ontario.
  2. Ensure that labour standards including health and safety and anti-reprisals protections; housing and other social entitlements are equally accessible: Migrant workers are excluded from many of Ontario’s rights and protections. Some migrant workers are not paid minimum wage because of their occupations; some are not covered by health and safety protections or receive adequate compensation when injured; employer-provided housing for migrant workers is often not regulated; and Ontario’s anti-reprisals protections do not adequately respond to migrant worker vulnerabilities. Many other social entitlements are unavailable. Comprehensive legislation is needed to ensure migrant workers have equal access to all social rights and protections, which includes:
    1. Strengthen anti reprisal protections so that migrant workers can exert their in the workplace
    2. Expand occupational health and safety so that all workers are protected at work
    3. Eliminate discriminatory provisions in workers compensation so that injured workers can live with dignity
    4. Ensure that migrant workers can access Ontario’s social safety net including access to social assistance.
    5. Update Ontario’s employments standard act so that it levels the playing field for precarious migrant workers.
    6. Expand tenant protections do that migrant workers are not relegated to sub standard housing and can live in housing of their choice.

Moving forward

Changes need to be made to provincial and federal policy to ensure migrant workers in agriculture, care work, and other sectors gain meaningful rights and protections. To do this, we need you to get involved!

  • Get educated: Follow Migrant Workers Alliance for Change on email, facebook, and twitter.
  • Get active: Reach out to member organizations of MWAC or other groups that work with migrant workers and volunteer your time with them. Help create the space for migrant workers to gather and determine their own political agenda.
  • Pressure the politicians: Reach out to your your MPPs and your MPs and let them know that you are watching them.