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Comprehensive Changes Needed in Foreign Worker Program

A Press Release by the Coalition for Migrant Worker Rights - Canada

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Atlantic Canada has a seasonal economy, and seasonal industry has come to depend on migrant workers to keep things running.

Canada, February 24, 2016 -- The Coalition for Migrant Worker Rights Canada (CMWRC), the representative body of migrant workers in the country is calling for an end to the discriminatory practice of tying migrant workers to specific employers and transition towards permanent immigration status upon arrival for all migrant workers. With membership in six provinces, the CMWRC is a coalition of organizations representing Canadian born and migrant worker groups from coast to coast to coast, aimed at improving work conditions for all workers. CMWRC believes that the review of the program must result in improved living and working conditions for Caregivers, Seasonal Agricultural Workers and other low-wage Temporary Foreign Workers that make up the Temporary Foreign Workers Program.

“Under the previous government, we saw a $1,000 processing fees imposed on employers which was sometimes downloaded to the workers themselves; a restriction of four years for workers to stay here; and many exclusions on migrant worker permits which made it so that workers couldn’t leave bad jobs,” says Marco Luciano from Migrante Canada which represents migrant workers in Alberta. “Any review of the Foreign  Worker Program should end these exclusions and move towards open work permits and ensure permanent status on landing.”

Under current laws, work sites with over 10 workers are subject to progressive “caps” on the percentage of migrant workers in their total workforce each year, from 30%, to 20%, to 10% in July 2016. Migrant workers as a result are forced out of jobs they have held for years. No new permits are being issued in food, retail and accommodation sector regions with unemployment greater than 6%, this has effectively locked workers already here in to their jobs greatly increasing the chances of exploitation.

“Atlantic Canada has a seasonal economy, and seasonal industry has come to depend on migrant workers to keep things running,” says Josie Baker of the Cooper Institute who works with migrant workers in Prince Edward Island. “We need to re-build our rural communities, but we have to face the reality that thousands of our neighbours are captive workers tied to a single employer, unable to re-unite with their families. We need to ensure that migrant workers have the same rights as everyone else.”

“Migrant workers are still being talked about as if they were an endless commodity Canada can bring in and send away whenever they feel like. There is no mention about the human and labor rights abuses this program gave way to, and the only issue that seems to be a problem is
whether Canada has enough of this "product" or not,” says Enrique Illanes from the Immigrant Workers Centre that supports migrant workers in Quebec. “We need to shift the discussion to how to reformulate a program that leaves many workers unprotected and  exposed, as well as ensuring labor and human rights for all workers in Canada.”

“For the last 50 years, the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) has brought tens of thousands of migrant workers from the Caribbean and Mexico annually to work in fields across Canada. These workers who risk life and limb in often unsafe work conditions to put food on the table,” says Chris Ramsaroop of Justicia for Migrant Workers that supports agricultural workers in Ontario. “This government has the opportunity to end half a century of injustice, and ensure permanent immigration status on landing for agricultural workers.”

“Migrant caregivers take care of children, the sick and the elderly, they safeguard our future and do critical work that benefits Canadian families and the Canadian economy. Their right to apply for permanent residence was taken away by the previous government and replaced by a quota
that restricts their ability to stay. Tied work permits make it nearly  impossible for Caregivers to switch jobs if they are in exploitative employment situations,” says Natalie Drolet of the West Coast Domestic Workers Association which serves Caregivers in British Columbia. “Caregivers should be able to switch jobs like other workers in Canada, and have open work permits immediately, as well as permanent immigration status on landing.”

“Here in Manitoba, we have seen that strong regulatory protections against recruiters, and providing decent healthcare and labour protections results in better work for everyone,” says Diwa Marcelino with Migrante in Winnipeg, Manitoba. “Now it is time for the Federal Government to keep its end of the bargain, and extend Federal protections.”

Source: Coalition for Migrant Worker Rights Canada

Migrant worker rights groups are available for comment across Canada:

  • Atlantic Canada - Josie Baker – Cooper Institute- 902-315-2705; 902-315-2705
  • Coalition for Migrant Worker Rights Canada - Syed Hussan – Migrant Workers Alliance for Change – 416-453-3632; 416-453-3632
  • Pour le français/Quebec: Enrique Llanes – Centre des travailleurs et travailleuses immigrant-e-s, 514-546-9382; 514-546-9382 –
  • Agricultural Workers / Ontario – Chris Ramsaroop – Justicia for Migrant Workers / Harvesting Freedom Campaign – 647-834-4932; 647-834-4932
  • Caregivers / British Columbia - Vancouver – Natalie Drolet – West Coast Domestic Workers Association – 604-669-6452; 604-669-6452
  • Alberta - Edmonton – Marco Luciano – Migrante Canada – 780-966-5908; 780-966-5908
  • Prairies - Manitoba – Diwa Marcelino – Migrante Canada – 204-218-7100; 204-218-7100

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