Open letter from migrant workers to federal ministers
(more pictures at https://tinyurl.com/migrantvoicespictures)
This letter was developed by migrant workers who attended the event Migrant Voices: A regional forum on migrant worker issues, held in Edmonton on June 4. The meeting was co-hosted by the Canadian Council for Refugees and Migrante Alberta, with the support of the Immigrant Workers Centre (Montreal), Red Legal (Vancouver), KAIROS Canada, Migrant Workers Dignity Association (Vancouver) and MOSAIC (Vancouver). These organizations strongly urge the Ministers to heed the demands of migrant workers in Canada.
July 6, 2017
The Honourable Ahmed D. Hussen, P.C., M.P. Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship 365 Laurier Avenue West Ottawa, Ontario K1A 1L1
The Honourable Patricia A. Hajdu, P.C., M.P. Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour 140 Promenade du Portage, Phase IV, 12 Floor Gatineau, Quebec K1A 0J9
Re: Protecting migrant workers’ rights in Canada
This letter reflects the concerns and recommendations of a group of 50 migrant workers living in Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia who met together in Edmonton on June 4 2017 to share experiences and discuss solutions to the challenges we face in Canada. We are participants in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) – including the Caregiver program and the agricultural stream ‑ and the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP), and many of us attended the meeting as representatives of migrant worker organizations. Today we write you to make you aware of our concerns, which are longstanding concerns for tens of thousands of migrant workers in this country, and to request that your departments take action to remedy the injustices experienced by hundreds of thousands of migrant workers in Canada.
To begin to address the all too frequent exploitation and abuse of migrant workers like us, the government of Canada must provide migrant workers with open work permits, in order to incentivize employers to treat their workers properly, and remove the problematic power imbalance that is built into the TFWP and the SAWP. Like any other worker in Canada, we should be able to leave a bad job in search of a better one. One of our fundamental demands that has been echoed not only by advocacy groups, but that constitutes a key recommendation in the 2016 report to Parliament by the HUMA Standing Committee, is the end to the employer-specific work permit, which makes us completely dependent on and at the mercy of one employer.
Protection of labour rights
We want the government of Canada to keep its commitment to defending basic human rights, by protecting the rights of migrant workers here on Canadian soil. We believe that workers should be involved in the crafting of the contracts that define their working conditions. As per the Auditor General’s report of Spring 2017, we ask the government to increase the efficiency and efficacy of enforcement activities for the TFWP and the SAWP, including by carrying out unannounced visits to workplaces. Furthermore, contracts, recruitment fees and working conditions should be monitored by an independent oversight and inspection body. We were pleased to learn about the collaborative initiative between the BC and federal governments to provide open work permits to migrant workers who have experienced abuse, and we urge you to extend this program to all the provinces, and to make it more accessible.
Many migrant workers are charged illegal fees, some as high as $10,000, by unscrupulous recruiters both in Canada and in the country of origin, just for the chance to work in Canada. In many cases these charges are incurred in combination with false promises of good wages and working conditions, and access to permanent residence. Debts resulting from illegal recruitment fees are not only unfair and illegal, but they increase workers’ vulnerability to human trafficking. We urge the government of Canada to take this problem seriously, and to take responsibility for ensuring that migrant workers like us who are contributing to the Canadian economy and society will not fall victim to this practice. Preventing and intervening sooner in exploitative situations will help prevent the abuse from escalating to human trafficking, many cases of which have been documented with migrant worker victims in Canada.
Migrant workers come to Canada seeking to provide a better life for our families. Yet unlike immigrants and foreign workers in the “high-skilled” streams, those of us participating in the “low-skilled” occupations are separated from our families for extended periods of time. We miss our partners and our children, and we live with the hardship and mental health issues that result from this separation, including anxiety and depression. We believe that all families have value – not just the families of those with a particular skillset. Migrant workers should not be separated from their families: they should be permitted to come to Canada with their partner (on an open work permit) and their children (who should be allowed to attend school). If seasonal workers come without their children, they should have a paid two week vacation during their contract to return home and see their families.
Settlement services and other benefits
Temporary foreign workers and seasonal agricultural workers should be eligible for federally funded settlement services. Access to support services is a serious concern for migrant workers like us. While we earn minimum wage, expensive lawyers and immigration consultants often charge us thousands of dollars to help us fill out paperwork that could be done by front-line staff at settlement or community organizations and legal clinics, if we had access to them.
Migrant workers pay into Employment Insurance and other federal benefits programs that we are unable to benefit from. In 2012, we were stripped of our right to access the parental benefits that we contribute to. This is unfair, and our access to benefits must be restored to give us fair access to the programs we contribute to.
Access to permanent residence
We are a diverse and heterogeneous group, and do not all have the same priorities. While we recognize that not all migrant workers would choose to stay in Canada if given the chance, we believe that making permanent residence an option is crucial to protecting workers’ rights. Furthermore, it would be a recognition on the part of the government of Canada of the important social and economic contributions of workers of all skill levels and countries of origin, rather than privileging one group (high-skilled TFWs) over another.
This list of concerns and recommendations is not exhaustive, but these are some of the most pressing issues that we face. We believe it is time for the government of Canada to stop using migrant workers as a cheap labour force that can be discarded after use, to take action to give the program integrity, and to recognize the value that migrant workers bring to Canada. This can be done by protecting our rights, and giving us the opportunity to make Canada a better country by staying here and bringing our families.
Yours sincerely, on behalf of the 50 migrant workers who met together in Edmonton on June 4,
Beverly Dacup, Caregiver Program Danilo de Leon, TFWP Felicitas Garcia, Caregiver Program Maria Ana Mahusay, Caregiver Program Dhon Mojica, TFWP Mary Chill More, TFWP Mauro, SAWP Lynn, former TFWP