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

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

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

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

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

 

Policy Brief: Submission from CMWRC & MWAC to HUMA

Policy Brief: Submission from CMWRC & MWAC to HUMA

Submission to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities

PLEASE DOWNLOAD HERE

These submissions are being jointly made by Coalition for Migrant Worker Rights Canada (CMWRC) and the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC). CMWRC is the representative body of migrant workers in the country. Our members include Cooper Institute in Prince Edward Island, Caregiver Connections Education and Support Organization (CCESO), Migrant Worker Solidarity Network in Manitoba, Migrante Canada, Migrant Workers Alliance for Change in Ontario, Radical Action with Migrants in Agriculture in Okanagan Valley, Temporary Foreign Workers Association in Quebec, Temporary Foreign Workers Coalition in Alberta, Vancouver Committee for Domestic Workers and Caregiver Rights in Vancouver and West Coast Domestic Workers Association in Vancouver.

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

These recommendations have been endorsed by AIDS Committee of Durham Region, Jesuit Refugee Service, Retail Action Network BC, Refugees Welcome Fredericton, SAME Brock Chapter, MigrantWorkersRights Canada, BC Employment Standards Coalition, Migrante BC, PINAY Quebec, People’s Health Movement Canada/Mouvement populaire pour la santé au Canada, Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network, Migrant Worker Health Project (International Migration Research Centre), Gabriella Ontario, AAFQ (association des aides familiales du Québec/Caregivers Association of Quebec) and Inter Pares.

Status on Landing!

A unified cross-Canada framework for action on migrant workers

Status on Landing means that:

  • People in low-waged occupations currently coming into Canada in the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, Caregiver Program, Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program and other programs with work authorization permits will be able to come to Canada as permanent residents, if they so choose, including being able to sponsor their families.

Calling for Status on Arrival is pragmatic, possible and necessary. Here is why:

(1) Status on Arrival is what migrant workers want.

Since at least 1968, migrant worker rights groups organizing with domestic workers, caregivers, seasonal agricultural workers, and temporary foreign workers (then the Non-Immigrant Employment Authorization Program) have unified around a single demand, full immigration status on landing for migrant workers.

Today, members of Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, Canada’s largest migrant worker rights coalition, Migrante Canada, the Temporary Foreign Workers Coalition in Alberta, groupings in British Columbia and Temporary Foreign Workers Association in Quebec are all unified on this demand.

(2)  Immigration Status on Arrival ensures rights for all workers.

We know that most low-waged workers are tied to a single employer and bad bosses are mistreating migrant workers. This mistreatment includes paying workers lower wages than workers with Canadian citizenship. Migrant workers are either directly excluded from labour protections, or labour laws are not responsive to their vulnerability to abuse and deportation. Access to healthcare, post-secondary education, pensions, employment insurance and other social entitlements is only available to those with permanent status.

Ensuring permanent residency status on arrival removes the differential treatment of migrant workers, and thus removes the possibility of overall decrease in wages and working conditions in any industry. It ensures equal access to healthcare and social protections for migrant workers, and because of their preventative nature, ensures better public health for all residents, and saves money to the public purse in the long run.

(3)  Status on Arrival is a consistent policy direction.

Canadian federal immigration policy divides workers coming in to the country in to two categories: those that arrive with permanent immigration status, and those that don’t. Those who don’t are temporary foreign workers who are in large part racialized and low-waged. Status on landing is a policy position that refuses to separate racialized and low-waged workers from other kinds of immigrants coming in to the country. It creates a unified framework that can more easily be operationalized in the long-term.

But…

Is it winnable?

Yes. Status on landing already exists for high-waged workers immigrating to Canada; it is the simplest policy and political solution. We also know that there are at least 25 million migrant workers around the world, and every one of the 16 richest countries in the world (OECD) has foreign worker programs. It is going to be hard to turn the tide towards permanent status and away from temporary work. We need short-term goals as we work towards status on arrival. These goals can include ensuring that migrant workers:

  • are not tied to one employer;
  • have equal access to all social programs, including Employment Insurance, health care, settlement services, social services and workers’ compensation;
  • have a right to a fair appeal process prior to a removal order;
  • have full protections under the provincial employment standards act and regulations currently enjoyed by Canadian Citizens and Permanent Residents, including no fee for any work placement. A comprehensive recruiter regulation program is also needed;
  • who have become undocumented have access to a comprehensive national regularization program to regularize their status.

For more detailed provincial and federal reform proposals, please get in touch with us at info@migrantworkersalliance.org.

Why not just call for shutting down the Temporary Foreign Workers Program?

Once status on landing is implemented, the temporary foreign workers program would effectively end. Calling for status on landing is important and different because:

  • Currently there is no other path for low-waged, racialized people to come to Canada. Shutting down the program would mean the mass exclusion of those communities. Not only is it not fair, it makes no economic sense. The Parliamentary Budget officer recently showed that the number of Canadian citizens and permanent residents with the skills to work in industries that migrant workers usually do has dropped by 26%.
  • If we call for shutting down the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, it would be almost impossible to organize with workers who are already in the program, and who have friends and family members planning to come in through it.
  • It’s also a question of what happens first. We would need to call for permanent programs, and only when they are implemented, would we be able to call for closure of the temporary programs. Status on landing moves it from a two-step ask, to a simpler one-step demand.

Does this mean anyone will be able to come to Canada?

The immigration system has its internal controls, including overarching laws, regulations and case law. Ensuring status on landing won’t change that. These immigrants would face the same scrutiny as immigrants’ parents being sponsored, or someone with a economics degree.

High-wage workers, even if they are coming under the Temporary Foreign Workers Program right now, have the option of applying to come in permanently through one of the Express Entry pathways. Status on landing won’t give high-waged workers an added advantage; it will give low-waged, racialized, workers, many of them women, access to dignity and stability.

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:

 

MWAC Submissions on regulatory proposals to enhance the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and International Mobility Program compliance framework.

MWAC Submissions on regulatory proposals to enhance the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and International Mobility Program compliance framework.

The proposed compliance framework may be able to lead to real implementation steps that ensure the principle of equal protections for migrant workers is met. However, three critical changes are needed to ensure that these regulations do not end up doing the opposite:

1. The compliance mechanisms and sanctions must not in any way punish workers for their employers’ abuse. The regulatory mechanism should include open work permits, and access to permanent residency for migrant workers. Failure to do so would make these regulations extremely punitive for migrant workers.

2. There should be no exceptions to workplaces that are being inspected or sanctioned. All migrant worker employers, that is those who are part of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program, Live-In Caregiver Program and the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, should be equally and comprehensively assessed for abuse.

3. These regulations will result in a convergence, and possible confusion between provincial and federal jurisdictions. MOUs on information sharing, and specific protocols to ensure that migrant workers are able to gain lost wages, or have access to other entitlements under provincial jurisdiction, must be developed.

For our full submissions, click HERE.

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.

Proposed Ontario labour law extends to foreign workers

Ontario will bar employers from charging all temporary foreign workers recruitment fees, according to new legislation introduced Wednesday.

Yasir Naqvi, Ontario's labour minister, announced new legisation to protect vulnerable workers at the downtown Toronto YMCA Wednesday.

By:  Immigration reporter, Published on Wed Dec 04 2013

Ontario will bar employers from charging recruitment fees and seizing personal documents from all temporary foreign workers, says Labour Minister Yasir Naqvi.

However, advocates for migrant workers say the proposed labour legislation falls short by failing to establish a registry of employers and recruiters similar to Manitoba’s, and holding them accountable by contributing to a bond that would compensate abused workers.

The number of temporary foreign workers in Ontario has skyrocketed from 91,000 in 2008 to 120,000 in 2012, as in other provinces across Canada.

“This is a good first step, but more needs to be done to reach out to migrant workers,” said Tzazna Miranda of Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.

The extension of the protection to the growing rank of migrant workers is part of sweeping changes announced by Naqvi Wednesday morning to better protect vulnerable workers in Ontario, among them workers hired by temporary help agencies, unpaid co-op students and other unpaid learners.

“Our government is standing up for workers and increasing fairness for business with this bill. It’s about taking action to protect the most vulnerable workers and level the playing field for employers, who play by the rules,” Naqvi told a news conference.

The Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act will eliminate the $10,000 cap on the recovery of owed wages and increase the period of recovery from six and 12 months to two years for employees.

It will also make temporary help agencies and employers jointly liable for employment standard violations, which will help decrease the number of companies that hire individuals solely to work in unsafe conditions.

Deena Ladd of Toronto’s Workers’ Action Centre said these changes can strengthen the protection of workers’ rights.

She said the effectiveness of these new measures lies in the enforcement, and raising the province’s minimum wage from the current $10.25 to $14 will be the next step.

In 2009, Ontario introduced a law to ban recruitment agencies from charging fees on live-in caregivers. Yet, critics said foreign caregivers are still being charged recruitment fees to secure jobs in the province.

Vigil: Celebrate Migrant Workers on December 18th

Migrant Workers Alliance for Change invites you to
Vigil: Celebrate Migrant Workers
http://www.facebook.com/events/302043009829811

5pm, December 18, 2011

Chinese Railway Workers’ Memorial (Map: http://bit.ly/vfFAmk)

Flowers, food, fruits and wine are the markers of the holiday season – grown, packaged, shipped, cooked by migrant workers across this country. As people begin to plan festivities, the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, is calling on migrant workers, undocumented people and their allies to join us at the Chinese Railway Workers` Memorial at 5pm in a vigil of somber reflection and to reiterate the need for immediate, urgent action to ensure justice, dignity and status for all migrants.

We demand: 

* A right to landing status be granted upon arrival for migrant workers. They must not be tied to one employer, be required to live in their employer’s home, or be subject to further medical examination;

* A right to equal access for all social programs, including Employment Insurance, health care, settlement services and social services;

* A right to a fair appeal process for migrant workers prior to a pre-removal order, and a stop to deportations until this process is in place;

* A right to full protection for all migrants under all provincial laws, including the Employment Standards Act, Health and Safety laws and WSIB, and including no fees for any work placement.

* Immediately implement a national regularization programs granting permanent immigration status for all non-residents living in Canada.

On December 18, 2011, migrant and their allies around the world will come together on factory floors, in farm fields, in hotels and construction sites, and on the streets to commemorate and celebrate the struggles of migrant workers on the Global Day of Action Against Racism, And for the Rights of Migrants, Refugees and Displaced People (http://globalmigrantsaction.org/) – Join us in Toronto!

More people are entering the Canadian labour force as temporary workers today then people entering Canada as permanent residents. Temporariness is also being instituted in the family sponsorship class, for parents and grandparents and within the refugee system. This means that migrants, often people of color, are being forced to work in sub-standard conditions, being used and abused by employers and corporations and sometimes having to make the difficult decision between living in the country without immigration status or being pushed out from communities and employment in the country. In spite of this, migrant workers continue to organize, to resist, and fight back. Join us on December 18, to continue this struggle.

Note: Migrant Workers Alliance for Change will also be doing leafletting and flyering at 3pm at Yonge & Dundas Square.

Alliance advocates for immigrant workers’ rights

Metro News Toronto, May 30, 2011 
Senthil Thevar, who was recruited from India in 2008 to work as a cook in Toronto, was afraid to complain about his bosses because his legal status here was tied to his employers a reason advocates call the foreign worker program “indentured slavery.”

Foreign farm workers, nannies and other temporary labourers in Canada are forming a united front to fight for better treatment by employers.

“What we are seeing now is a shift and expansion of the temporary foreign workers program from agriculture and live-in care to food industry, restaurants, hospitality and tourism,” said Sonia Singh of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, the coalition to be launched this week.

“We are seeing worsening work conditions for these workers. It sets a dangerous path to have our immigration policy based on temporary work.”

Despite the recent economic downturn, the number of temporary foreign workers in Canada has skyrocketed from 160,908 in 2006 to 283,096 in 2010.

Individual groups have organized within their own sectors, but it is time to have a united front to advocate for all foreign workers, who are at the mercy of Canadian employers and third-party recruiters, said Singh, whose group is made up of 17 grassroots organizations and unions.

Resisting Precarity Forum

Resisting Precarity: An Immigration-Labour Policy Forum.
Introducing the Migrant Workers-Alliance for Change.

June 1, 2011
10am – 12:30pm
280 POD, Jorgenson Hall, Ryerson University
380 Victoria Street

Please register by: http://bit.ly/ResistingPrecarityMWAC

Join us at this forum to find out about the work and campaigns of the Migrant Workers’ Alliance for Change.

Find out about new fact sheets and resources for community agencies working with migrant worker populations.

Help strategize around winning protections for migrant workers and organizing against immigration policy based on temporary work and increased precarity in the context of a newly elected Harper majority.