Rights-based approach – a step towards protecting migrant workers?

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November 14, 2013 by ceris

Over the last decade, Canada’s labour market increasingly relied on migrant workers who hold precarious temporary immigration status in Canada. In fact, in 2008, the number of temporary migrant workers who entered Canada surpassed the number of economic immigrants who were granted permanent resident status; and it seems this trend will continue in the years to come.

Unfortunately, temporary migrant workers have few legal protections. As a result, they are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation by recruiters and employers in all the stages of their labour migration cycle including recruitment, living and working conditions, renewal of work permits, and access to permanent status (if possible).

seminar photo 1 As such, it is very timely that CERIS and RCIS organized a panel discussion last November 4, 2013 at Ryerson University titled, “Making the Grade? A Civil Society, Research, and Policy Dialogue on the CCR’s Migrant Worker Report Cards and the Treatment of Migrant Workers in Ontario” to discuss and evaluate the federal and Ontario laws that apply to low-wage migrant workers. Invited discussion panelists were Marisa Berry-Méndez of Canadian Council for Refugees, Fay Faraday of Osgoode Hall Law School, Grace-Edward Galabuzi of Ryerson University, and Naveen Mehta of United Food and Commercial Workers Canada (UFCW).

The panel described the temporary migrant worker program in general, the different issues surrounding it, and the various federal and provincial legislations that reinforce the vulnerability of migrant workers. Grace-Edward Galabuzi added to the discussion the racialized aspect of program.

seminar photo 2Panelists explained that provincial governments have the power to enforce employment standards legislations, including those that cover temporary foreign workers. As such, some provinces provide better security and protection to migrant workers like Manitoba’s Worker Recruitment and Protection Act (WRAPA) and Saskatchewan’s Foreign Worker Recruitment and Immigration Services Act.

Compared to Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Ontario is lagging behind in the area of protecting migrant workers’ rights. Both Ontario and Alberta do not allow collective bargaining which give migrant workers protection against unlawful dismissals when there are employment standards complaints. In addition, migrant workers also suffer from the lack of support services and access to information. Furthermore, employers are rarely checked if they are following their contract obligations.

Sad stories of exploitation and abuse of temporary migrant workers are not rare in the news and newspapers. As such, I feel like the government, both in the federal and provincial levels, should proactively address and solve the systemic issues and problems in the TFW program that encourage the exploitative relationships between employers and migrant workers. After all, both governments have a role to play to continue or mediate these exploitative relationships.

Each discussant proposed different recommendations that the government could enforce both at the provincial and federal levels including licensing of recruiters, legislated ban on recruitment fees, registration of employers, the right to collective bargaining, and giving access to status, to name a few. Although I think it is not realistic to grant all low-skilled migrant workers permanent residence status even before coming here in Canada, I believe it is only fair and humane that Canada considers a rights-based approach instead of just focusing on the economic benefits.

Although migrant workers have temporary status in Canada, Canada and Ontario must both ensure that these workers have job security and good working conditions at the very least. In addition to the various international laws, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Code ensure and protect every person’s fundamental freedom and rights including those of migrant workers. As such, government and local employers cannot simply turn a blind eye and exploit the precarious status of migrant workers.

Manitoba’s WRAPA and Saskatchewan’s Foreign Worker Recruitment and Immigration Services Act, while far from being perfect, can become the best-practice models for all provincial governments to follow a rights-based approach. The existence of the WRAPA in Manitoba and the equivalent legislation in Saskatchewan shows that changes can be made and that there is a way to balance the need to protect the rights of transnational migrant workers and to fulfill economic demands.

About the blog author:

kirsten's photoKirsten Reodica is a 4th year student of BA Honours Double Major in International Studies and Political Science at York University. She has worked as a student assistant at CERIS since 2012. Her research interests include immigration issues and international relations and development.

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