Statement of Unity on Temporary Migrant Workers in Canada

 

April 11, 2011  part 1

We, members of faith-based communities, grassroots migrant organizations, service providers and unions have become aware of and begun working as a coalition to support and further understand the struggles of migrant workers living in our communities. While they remain invisible to the community at large, migrant workers provide much needed services that would not otherwise be met by Canadians. They are employed as farm workers, janitors, cleaners, caregivers, construction workers, cooks and counter assistants and work on local farms and in restaurants, hotels, food courts, airports, hospitals and private homes in Metro Vancouver.1 The members of this coalition, the Coalition for Migrant Worker Justice, believe that migration raises serious economic, political, social, cultural, labour and ecclesial concerns in today’s globalized world.

Canada, like many high-income countries in the Global North, has made use of migrant temporary workers to fulfil labour shortages traditionally in the agriculture and domestic care giving sectors through its Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) and the Live-in Care Giver Program (LCP), which are part of Canada’s larger Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). During the last decade, the Canadian government has been aggressively expanding its TFWP as a short-term response to newer alleged labour shortages claimed by industry representatives from the construction, health, food and hospitality sectors, among others. Since its introduction in 2002, the number of temporary migrant workers entering into the country under the new Project for Occupations Requiring Lower Levels of Formal Training has dramatically grown, especially in western provinces such as British Columbia. According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the number of temporary migrant worker permits issued in 2009 made up almost half of all the temporary visas held in British Columbia.2 In 2008 and 2009, and for the first time in Canadian history, the number of migrant workers entering Canada outnumbered the number of migrants coming in as permanent residents.3 Today there are approximately 280,000 migrant workers in all of Canada.4 The members of this Coalition see this cross-national labour movement as part of the economic global agenda by which the Global North takes advantage of the excess labour in the Global South by importing their workers as cheap labour to maximize profits.

Canada’s federal and provincial governments have consistently failed to adequately address gaps in the immigration, employment, and labour law and policy, which systemically discriminate and exploit temporary migrant workers. The tremendous structural barriers temporary migrant workers face as a result of these gaps position them as second class to workers in Canada with non-temporary status (“resident workers”) with respect to their rights and benefits. At the same time, while in the Global North, the temporary status of these workers often renders them invisible and precarious, disposable if they speak up for their rights or out against poor working conditions. In this context, these temporary migrant workers are “unfree” labour, many experiencing their employment relationship as indentured servitude.

Temporary migrant workers continue to be vulnerable to all kinds of indignity, abuse and danger, neglected both by their own governments and the countries in which they work. Their families suffer the toll of separation. In times of increasing xenophobia and economic crisis, temporary migrant workers are often used as scapegoats for many problems in their “host” countries.5 Those workers who are deeply rooted in their faith, which is a source of hope in hard times, do not always have the opportunity to practice that faith. In spite of this, temporary migrant workers have struggled to assert their rights and dignity and have their contributions to Canada’s economy recognized. Thanks to their courage and determination, they have raised their voices to make public their experiences of injustice. In speaking up, temporary migrant workers have risked their jobs, deportation, and the potential to obtain future contracts because of blacklisting.
Supporters and allies have followed the migrant workers’ struggles against the exploitative working conditions, lack of adequate regulation and rights to organize, and the absence of minimum protections they face under the TFWP. Building on the work of allies and workers alike, we have formed this coalition to raise our voices together in solidarity with temporary migrant workers in their pursuit of justice and the recognition that they are human beings and not mere commodities.

We recognize the risks temporary migrant workers face in expressing their concerns publically and our privileged position to speak out against the injustice and poor working conditions that these workers have told us they face under the TFWP. In this context, we, the members of the Coalition for Migrant Worker Justice, have identified the following common concerns that exist for temporary migrant workers throughout Metro Vancouver followed by a list of relevant recommendations.

1. Temporary Migrant Workers face significant barriers to asserting their basic rights
a) The circumstances of temporary migrant workers’ working conditions deprive them of the personal and collective dignity befitting human beings. Respect Human Rights for all.
b) It is not clear to all stakeholders which level of government is responsible or accountable for the conditions of temporary migrant workers because of overlapping federal, provincial and municipal jurisdiction. Governments must be responsible and be held accountable.
c) There is a structural disconnect relating to temporary migrant workers’ legal entitlements and the enforcement of those entitlements, which undermine the workers’ full access to legal protections and justice. Workers’ protection comes first.
d) Temporary migrant workers’ alienation creates a significant barrier for the workers, community members and service providers to address working conditions and facilitate workers’ access to justice. Workers need to be able to communicate and express their concerns freely without penalty.
e) Many Workers are deeply rooted in their faith, which is a source of hope in hard times, but do not always have the opportunity to practice that faith. Some workers are allowed time off on Saturday or Sunday afternoons, but some only have a few hours.
f) Many elected officials, even those whose portfolios affect temporary migrant workers (such as health, housing, immigration, labour, healthcare), are not knowledgeable about the governments’ programs and policies, much less their impact on temporary migrant workers. There is need for in-house education for government officials regarding the impact of legislation and the complex system surrounding temporary migrant workers.
g) Many Canadian employers are not adequately educated about their responsibilities under the TFWP, or the health, housing, workers compensation, immigration, labour and employment laws and policies pertaining to these programs. Employers need to be educated about their responsibilities under the various government programs and laws.
h) Temporary migrant workers are not adequately educated about their rights and entitlements. Temporary migrant workers have a right to be educated about their own rights and entitlements.
i) The Canadian people directly benefit from the mandatory collection of taxes that temporary migrant workers pay. However, the vast majority of temporary migrant workers are unable to claim benefits provided by the collection of taxes for various reasons. All workers have a right to claim the benefits they contribute to, specifically EI and CPP.

2. Temporary Foreign Worker status is inherently exploitative and exclusionary
a) There are structural and systemic barriers to temporary migrant workers’ basic job security.
b) Temporary migrant workers are sometimes reluctant to claim benefits or entitlements because of fear of reprisal from employers and government.
c) Temporary migrant workers’ contracts tie them to a particular type of work, employer and/or province, limiting their willingness and power to complain about existing working conditions for fear they will be sent home or be blacklisted (not get another contract in the future).
d) The dream of permanent residence fed to some temporary migrant workers through programs like the Provincial Nominee Program creates an additional condition that further limits the willingness of workers to complain to or about their employers or demand their basic legal entitlements. Promises made by governments and consultants must be honoured.
e) Even the faint hope of residency or citizenship is not available to temporary migrant workers in the SAWP.

3. Inadequate regulation of agents, consultants and recruiters increases the vulnerability of Temporary Migrant Workers
a) Sending and receiving governments do not adequately monitor or enforce existing laws and policy respecting agents, consultants and recruiters. There is a need for proactive inspections, tighter controls and monitoring by both sending and receiving governments, as well as an independent commission.
b) Some recruiters unlawfully benefit from the TFWP by charging workers fees for their services.
c) The many programs that constitute the TFWP, which differ depending on the province and labour sector, are complex and difficult to understand. Workers are vulnerable to abuses by agents and consultants who prepare and process the paperwork for these programs at additional cost. Access to free language and cultural interpretation as well as support services is essential.
d) The municipal, provincial and federal governments have inadequate mechanisms for independent monitoring of recruiters, agents and consultants. We need an independent monitoring commission.

4. Temporary Foreign Worker Programs reinforce neoliberal policies and practices
a) The TFWP favours the interests of corporations and employers at the expense of the rights of both temporary migrant and resident workers.
b) Corporations and governments justify regressive laws and policies in the name of the economy, which come at the expense of labour, social, political and environmental protections both in Canada and abroad. Government laws, regulations, and employment standards need to be continuously reviewed and revised.
c) Personal and professional links between employers and officials in government impede the ability of workers, community advocates, allies and service providers to lobby for change.
d) Temporary migrant workers are treated as commodities in the pursuit of maximizing fiscal profits. This sounds like modern-day slavery or human trafficking.
e) Temporary migrant worker programs reinforce the global division of labour.
f) The TFWP undermines the ability of workers to organize, and weakens resident workers’ ability to counter industry and government pressures against their rights and protections.
g) The TFWP reinforces low wages in some employment sectors and perpetuates myths about labour shortages. They can result in divisions and resentment between migrant and resident workers. Such divisions of labour must be stopped. Equal rights and dignity for all. Our governments must support a system that ensures a just, fair wage for all.

We, the members of this Coalition, agree that the TFWP, which has been denounced by many — academia, the media, church and faith groups, service providers, grassroots organizations, unions and, most of all, the workers themselves – is exploitative, oppressive, and blatantly violates the human dignity and human rights of the marginalized temporary migrant workers from the Global South. This is a call to action – to denounce the existing system and transform labour and migration law and policy to make them proactive mechanisms that reflect a nation respectful of all people and, in particular, justice for all workers.

We invite you to join us!
Members of the Coalition for Migrant Worker Justice/ Coalicion por la Justicia deTrabajadores Migrantes/ Koalisyon para sa Katarungan ng mga Migranteng Mangagawa as of April 11, 2011:
Amnesty International – Richmond Group
Agricultural Workers Alliance (AWA) – United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Surrey
BC Building Trades Council
Canada Philippines Solidarity for Human Rights (CPSHR)
Justicia for Migrant Workers BC (J4MW)
KAIROS Vancouver
Longhouse Council of Native Ministry c/o Rev. Barry Morris
Migrante B.C.
Missionaries of St. Charles – Scalabrinians
RED Legal
Richmond KAIROS Committee
St. Joseph’s Langley Mexican Farm Workers Outreach
West Coast Domestic Workers’ Association (WCDWA)
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1 The Metro Vancouver Region covers an area of 282,000 hectares and is 96km across from Bowen Island to Maple Ridge. There are 22 member municipalities and one electoral area. Because this Coalition was initiated by groups in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland the focus and activities remain for this area. However, we welcome and invite other groups to join/endorse this effort and work together and/or initiate their own locally/regionally relevant appeal.
2 See Welcome BC website, online at http://www.welcomebc.ca/wbc/immigration/come/tfw/index.page?
This number includes so-called “skilled” workers and diplomatic delegates who do not face the same structural vulnerabilities that temporary migrant workers face referred to by the Coalition.
3 See Delphine Nakache and Paula J. Kinoshita, “The Canadian Temporary Foreign Worker Program: Do Short-Term Economic Needs Prevail over Human Rights Concerns?” IRPP Study No. 5 (May 2010), online athttp://oppenheimer.mcgill.ca/The-Canadian-Temporary-Foreign
4 See Nakache and Kinoshita.
GENEVA – November 18, 2010 – The UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO) has ruled that Canada and Ontario, through Ontario’s ban on farm unions, violate the human rights of the more than 100,000 migrant and domestic agriculture workers in that province. It follows a complaint filed in March 2009 by UFCW Canada – the country’s largest private-sector union and a leading advocate for farm workers’ rights for over two decades. The ILO is the United Nations agency responsible for formulating international labour standards including basic labour rights. Temporary migrant workers continue to be vulnerable to all kinds of indignity, abuse and danger, neglected both by their own governments and the countries in which they work. Their families suffer the toll of separation. In times of increasing xenophobia and economic crisis, temporary migrant workers are often used as scapegoats for many problems in their “host” countries.
5. See Global Migration Group (UNESCO), Fact-Sheet on the Impact of the Economic Crisis on Discrimination and Xenophobia (October 2009),
6. See, for example, KAIROS’ Statement of Unity, 2006; Justicia for Migrant Worker-BC report “Housing Conditions for Temporary Migrant Agricultural Workers in BC” (2007); and the report published by Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives, Justicia for Migrant Workers BC, Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society, BCFED, “Cultivating farm Worker Rights: Ending the Exploitation of Immigrant and Migrant Farm Workers in BC” (2008).

7 Neoliberalism is an economic philosophy that focuses on free markets, reduced public spending on social services, deregulation and privatization (and maximizing profits for owners of corporations). KAIROS, God’s People: A People on the Move:A resource for churches in solidarity with uprooted people. (2006)