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.

The Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act, 2014 (Bill 18)

The Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act, 2014 (Bill 18)

Thanks to pressure from workers and the public, the Ontario government has re-introduced legislation that will make some improvements to the working conditions of workers including migrant workers. Bill 18 will ban recruitment fees for all migrant workers; remove the arbitrary monetary cap on reclaiming unpaid wages and tougher penalties for employment standards violations. These are good steps but comprehensive changes are still needed. Download our Backgrounder on Bill 18.

Migrant Workers and Bill 18

Migrant workers are often forced to pay recruiters thousands of dollars in fees, just to find a job. Many workers have little choice but to borrow the money, which can mean a debt burden on workers and their families, making them even more vulnerable to exploitation. Bill 18 extends the current law that bans recruitment fees for live-in caregivers to all migrant workers under the federal Temporary Foreign Worker Program. While this provision is a step forward, it also relies on a complaints-based model for law enforcement, a model that has been proven to be ineffective for caregivers. Bill 18 still allows employers to recover certain costs (to be defined by government) from migrant workers, which could undermine the very protections Bill 18 is supposed to create. No worker should have to pay to work. Bill 18 should be strengthened by adopting and improving on best practices from Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia.

Bill 18 will extend the time period in which workers can file claims against employers for unpaid wages, from six months to two years. The Bill also allows workers to claim up to two years worth of unpaid wages (formerly it was only six months) and removes the $10,000 limit on the amount of unpaid wages workers can claim. There would be no limit under this law. These measures represent a real victory for workers. However, many migrant workers are tied to their employers for up to 4 years and are unable to assert their rights during this period.

We want Bill 18 amended so that it:

  • Eliminates any provision or potential provision under which employers “recover” recruitment or employment costs from migrant workers;
  • Gives migrant workers at least five years to file complaints so that they can seek justice after their contracts have finished;
  • Makes the government responsible for proactively enforcing the law and eliminates the self-reporting provisions of the Bill;
  • Allows third-party complaints and fast-track investigations where reprisals are alleged;
  • Extends joint responsibility to both employers and recruiters for any exploitative, migrant worker recruitment practice;
  • Licenses recruiters and registers employers and requires recruiters to provide a guaranteed security deposit from which migrant workers can be compensated when recruiters violate laws.

Get in touch with us. Email coordinator@migrantworkersalliance.org so that we can get these important amendments made.

 

Fair Ontario Immigration Act

Fair Ontario Immigration Act

On February 19, 2013, the Ontario Liberals introduced the Ontario Immigration Act (Bill 161). Through Bill 161, the government is seeking control over immigration to Ontario. An important goal of the bill is to enable “immigrants to settle in Ontario and integrate quickly into and to participate fully in Ontario society.” As currently written, however, Bill 161 will not achieve this goal for the majority of migrant workers that come to this province.  It is essential that key revisions be made to this Bill, otherwise new legislation will be necessary.

A genuine Ontario Immigration Act must include just access for migrant workers. This means:

  • Inclusion: Full immigration status and access to benefits
  • Accountability: regulating recruiters and employers
  • Breaking down silos: Cooperation between governments
  • Proactive enforcement

Bill 161 fails to do so.

In bringing forward much-needed policy and legislation on immigration and migrant workers in this province, the government has the opportunity to create a legislative framework of fairness; a framework grounded on the principle that workers that come to work and build this province should be allowed to stay if they chose and access the benefits of their labour. In short, Ontario’s immigration policy must support access to residency status to all workers and protection for temporary workers from recruiter and employer exploitation. The Bill fails to do this.

Unfortunately, Bill 161 appears to be focused on bringing Ontario in line with the federal government’s “Expression –of-Interest” model of immigration slated to come into effect next year. This new federal system will set up a system to allow governments and employers to select immigrants based on employment and labour market needs. Bill 161 would enable the Ontario government to create selection programs for permanent residents (for example, under the Provincial Nominee Program) or temporary workers (for example, under the temporary foreign worker program).  The Bill would also allow the government to set up a registry of employers and recruiters to participate in selection programs.

The government is seeking to be more competitive with other jurisdictions in order to boost Ontario’s economic class immigrants from the current 52% to 70% of all immigrants to the province. It would do this through an increase in the number of immigrants that Ontario can select under the Provincial Nominee Program from the current 2,500 to 5,000 per year with a focus on economic class immigrants rather than workers that continue to build the province through temporary foreign workers programs (construction, caregiving, farming, hospitality services etc).

We are concerned that Bill 161 will give recruiters and employers more control over the immigration selection process and not civil society. There is nothing in the Bill to address the exorbitant fees that recruiters charge workers for employment under these programs. Nor is there anything in the bill to address substandard employment conditions that all too many migrant workers face that come through such selection programs. The Ontario Government is going in the opposite direction of the best practices established by Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia that have legislated proactive protection from exploitation by recruiters and employers.

Download our analysis of Bill 161 and what a genuine Ontario immigration act would be:  Creating a Genuine and Fair Ontario Immigration Act.

Get in touch with coordinator@migrantworkersalliance.org if you would like to depute on this Bill.

What’s in Bill 146

What's in Bill 146

Bill 146 introduces many changes that Migrant Workers Alliance for Change and Workers Action Centre members and supporters across the province have been calling for.  If passed the new legislation would:

  1. Ban recruitment fees for all migrant workers
  2. Give workers 2 years to claim unpaid wages
  3. Get rid of the unfair $10,000 limit on the unpaid wages that can be claimed
  4. Make temp agencies and client companies jointly liable for ESA violations
  5. End WSIB rating system loopholes that provided an incentive for companies to use temp agencies

The Ministry of Labour also announced that they will fulfill their 2008 commitment to $10 million for proactive employment standards enforcement. The government pledged to bring in more penalties for employers who violate the law and indicated the need to continue to make further changes to address precarious employment.

Read MWAC Migrant worker members responses here.

Click here to download our analysis of Bill 146 and recommendations to strengthen it.

Ending migrant worker exploitation by recruiters

Key Issues

Migrant workers are paying up to an equivalent of two years’ salaries in fees in their home countries to unscrupulous recruiters and agencies to work in Canada. To pay these fees, entire families go into debt.

Often when workers arrive here, work conditions and wages are not as they were promised or agreed to.

With families back home in debt, workers are afraid to complain about ill treatment by bad bosses here. In some cases when workers complained about recruitment fees, they faced abuse and deportation. Recruiters have been known to punish entire communities by blacklisting their ability to come to Canada.

Employers pass the buck to recruiters in Canada, who in turn claim that its recruiters in sending countries that are the real culprits. Ontario does not have effective enforcement tools to hold recruiters and employers accountable.

In 2009, migrant worker members of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change succeeded in passing the Employment Protections for Foreign Nationals Act (EPFNA) which banned charging recruitment fees from caregivers.

The way forward.

We expect Ontario to ban recruitment fees and bar the seizure of documents from all migrant workers rather than just live-in caregivers as is currently mandated in the EPFNA filling in part of the legislative gap. However, two-thirds of the caregivers the Caregivers Action Centre surveyed after EPFNA came into force paid fees averaging $3,275.  EPFNA relies heavily on worker complaints rather than proactive enforcement making it a weak legislative tool.

Register and license employers and recruiters: The Ontario and Federal government do not keep track of recruiters. Manitoba, Saskatchewan and other provinces are moving towards registering employers and licensing recruiters so that provinces have direct jurisdiction over them. By licensing recruiters, provinces have the ability to carry out targeted enforcement, release a list of accredited recruiters that employers and workers can access and be able to track recruiters that break the law without having to rely solely on workers’ speaking out. For Ontario to ensure recruitment fees are not collected, it must register employers and license recruiters.

Joint and several liability: Manitoba, Saskatchewan and other provinces are moving towards asking for lines of credit or bonds put up by recruiters and employers and holding employers and recruiters jointly responsible for fees charged all the way down the recruitment pipeline. By holding all parties equally financially responsible, provinces are able to enforce a ban on recruitment fees and ensure that workers charged fees are able to recover them. This works hand in hand with recruiter licensing as employers are able to work with approved recruiters and avoid worker abuse.

Anti-reprisals mechanisms: Migrant workers must be able to make complaints about lost fees after their contracts are complete (up to four years) so that they don’t have to choose between keeping their jobs and recovering fees paid abroad. Community members must be able to make complaints about unfair recruiters and employers and provisions must be in place to give access to temporary resident permits to migrant workers while they have Ministry of Labour complaints pending so they do not get deported while waiting for a decision.

Further down the line, inter-provincial and bi-lateral agreements with other states must be established to ensure that recruiters do not skip provinces after charging monies and stop offering fake jobs in Canada that don’t exist.  Recruitment fees are one part of the puzzle. Migrant workers deserve equal wages, healthy jobs, decent housing, and a strong voice. Most of all migrant workers deserve the opportunity to have full immigration status on landing.

Migrant Workers respond to proposed Ontario law

Banning recruitment fees for all migrant workers; removing the arbitrary monetary cap on reclaiming unpaid wages and tougher penalties for employment standards violations announced today means that migrant workers gain a few more protections today, but comprehensive changes are still needed says the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC), Canada’s largest migrant worker advocacy coalition.

Changes were also announced today for other workers in precarious jobs, see our member organization Workers Action Centre’s update on that here.

“After migrant workers exposed abuses by recruiters in 2009, we won protections for live-in caregivers but other migrant workers were unnecessarily excluded. Today after four years of migrant workers speaking out about their experiences, recruitment fees have finally been banned for all migrant workers.

Unfortunately over two-thirds of the caregivers we surveyed after the law came into effect in 2009 still paid fees. That’s because these protections rely on complaints and not proactive enforcement. For there to be meaningful protections, Ontario must follow provinces like Manitoba and implement employer and recruiter registration, licensing and regulation including joint and several financial liability.

Migrant workers are not inherently vulnerable, its provincial laws that exclude us from basic protections that make us so. Many migrant workers are women and racialized people who are being denied immigration status by the Federal Government. Ontario must step up. We are urging Ontario’s government to sit down with migrant workers and update labour laws and other legislation. It is high time that migrant worker achieve the same protections and benefits as other Ontarians.

Liza Draman, Caregivers Action Centre

(more…)

Recruitment Fees Banned for All Migrant Workers; Comprehensive Changes Still Needed

TORONTO, ONTARIO–(Marketwired – Dec. 4, 2013) – Banning recruitment fees for all migrant workers; removing the arbitrary monetary cap on reclaiming unpaid wages and tougher penalties for employment standards violations means that migrant workers gain a few more protections today, but comprehensive changes are still needed says the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC), Canada’s largest migrant worker advocacy coalition.

“After migrant workers exposed abuses by recruiters in 2009, we won protections for live-in caregivers but other migrant workers were unnecessarily excluded,” explains Liza Draman, spokesperson for the Caregivers Action Centre, member organization of MWAC. “Today after four years of migrant workers speaking out about their experiences, recruitment fees have finally been banned for all migrant workers.”

“Unfortunately over two-thirds of the caregivers we surveyed after the law came into effect in 2009 still paid fees,” adds Draman. “That’s because these protections rely on complaints and not proactive enforcement. For there to be meaningful protections, Ontario must follow provinces like Manitoba and implement employer and recruiter registration, licensing and regulation including joint and several financial liability.”

“I paid $1500 in Honduras to come work here in Canada. Here I worked in an unsafe job at a mushroom farm for a year to be able to pay back that debt,” stated Juan Miguel, a temporary foreign worker leader with Justicia for Migrant Workers, member organization of the MWAC. “On top of that, my employer regularly stole my wages and I couldn’t file a claim with the Ministry or I would have been fired and sent back home. I had to wait until I finished my contract, went home and came back with another employer but by then I had exceeded the current 6 month limit on claims. Today’s changes are an important step, but migrant workers need much stronger protections to ensure we have equal rights on the job.”

“Getting rid of the unfair $10,000 limit for employment standards claims and giving workers 2 years to file claims is a significant victory for Ontario workers, especially migrant workers” says Senthil Thevar, a former migrant worker and a spokesperson of MWAC member organization Workers Action Centre who is owed thousands of dollars in unpaid wages. “If these laws had existed a few years ago, I could have claimed the thousands of dollars of my unpaid wages immediately rather than being forced to go to court.”

“Migrant workers are not inherently vulnerable, its provincial laws that exclude us from basic protections that make us so,” insists Draman. “Many migrant workers are women and racialized people who are being denied immigration status by the Federal Government. Ontario must step up. We are urging Ontario’s government to sit down with migrant workers and update labour laws and other legislation. It is high time that migrant worker achieve the same protections and benefits as other Ontarians.”

Kyla Hernandez, a Filipino migrant worker who paid $5,000 to work in a vegetable packaging company in Windsor, ON, and spoke out against recruitment fees in 2008 adds, “Today’s labour reforms are a result of the advocacy efforts of migrant workers who took to the streets and held politicians accountable for the 19th century working and living conditions that we face in 21st century Ontario. However this victory is bittersweet. Many of our friends who fought for this have been terminated or deported for standing up for their rights. They will not enjoy the fruits of their labour. We owe it to them to continue the struggle and ensure that we are no longer treated as second class citizens.”

Source: www.migrantworkersalliance.org

The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change includes Alliance of South Asian Aid Prevention, Asian Community Aids Services, Caregivers Action Centre, Industrial Accident Victims’ Group of Ontario, Justicia for Migrant Workers, KAIROS, Legal Aid Windsor, Migrante Ontario, No One Is Illegal – Toronto, Parkdale Community Legal Services, Social Planning Toronto, Unifor, United Food and Commercial Workers and the Workers’ Action Centre.

Media Liaison
Migrant Workers Alliance for Change
Syed Hussan, Coordinator
416 453 3632
coordinator@migrantworkersalliance.org

Everyone agrees: No one should pay to work

Everyone agrees: No one should pay to work

The Canada Council for Refugees, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Metcalf Foundation and even the Law Commission of Ontario agree: Migrant workers need protection from recruiters. Current laws must be expanded and fully implemented.

Only the Ontario Ministry of Labour remains out of step. Not enough has been done to stop recruiter exploitation of migrant workers. We know Minister Yasir Naqvi knows of these demands, the question is when will he act?

(more…)

Law Commission Urges Action

Today’s launch of the LCO commission report highlights the necessity for the government of Ontario to implement proactive steps to protect the over 60,000 temporary foreign workers in Ontario.The report echoes calls from the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change to ban recruitment and placement fees for all temporary foreign workers. The banning of fees is the first step in regulating the run-away recruiter industry that is exploiting thousands of workers in the province. More recommendations from Metcalf Foundation here.

The commission heard first hand from migrant worked who demand an end to recruitment fees and protection from reprisals. It is imperative that the province takes the necessary steps to protect the provinces most vulnerable workers. We owe it to all the migrant workers who build our communities, put food on our tables and take care of our loved ones.

Video: Recruiters visit Ontario Ministry of Labour, watch what happens