Canada's laws fuel migrant worker exploitation: Report

Feds, provinces need to work together on laws, policies

Canada’s reliance on low-wage migrant workers with temporary immigration status is growing but our laws make them vulnerable to abuse, according to a report published by the Metcalf Foundation.

The number of temporary foreign workers in Canada has more than tripled in the past decade, but they are frequently underpaid, overworked and denied basic rights such as decent housing, and health and safety, according to Made in Canada: How the Law Constructs Migrant Workers’ Insecurity.

“Since migrant workers don’t enjoy the same legal status and protections as permanent residents, they are at higher risk of abuse by employers who take advantage of their vulnerability,” said Fay Faraday, a constitutional, labour and human rights lawyer and the report’s author. “It’s time to put an end to this type of exploitation.”

Federal immigration and provincial employment law and policy are typically developed separately but should be integrated, she said.

“At each stage in the labour migration cycle, migrant workers face insecurity that is either created through law or sustained because the law fails to prevent practices that are known to undermine workers’ security and capacity to enforce their rights,” said the report, which outlines policy and legal changes that would improve the situation.

Federal and provincial governments should take a close look at the flaws in immigration and labour migration policies, said Sandy Houston, president & CEO of the Metcalf Foundation, which aims to enhance the effectiveness of people and organizations working together to help build a just, healthy and creative society.

“Cycling a renewable pool of precarious workers in and out of the country is not a model for building a sustainable economy, for building secure communities or for building a nation,” she said. “We can do better.”

The fundamental recommendation of this report is that Canadian immigration policy must be reframed to ensure workers of all skill levels can apply to immigrate to Canada with permanent resident status.

To build effective protection for decent work, a multi-dimensional approach is needed, said the report, which would weave together:

strong, proactive government oversight and enforcement

protection for the effective and meaningful exercise of fundamental rights, including collective representation

substantive workplace and social rights that are responsive to migrant workers’ real circumstances

effective and accessible mechanisms for enforcing rights

active involvement of community organizations to support migrant workers’ voice.

The report makes 22 recommendations, including :

Legislation must be extended to ensure all migrant workers have effective protection against the charging of recruitment fees and to ensure employers will be jointly and severally liable for recruitment fees that have been collected by private recruiters.

Workers in the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) should be entitled to job security, including seniority and a right to recall.

Work permits should be sector-specific or province-specific and framed in a way that allows a worker to engage in alternate work or modified duties in the event of injury or illness.

Employment insurance benefits must be made accessible in practice to migrant workers.

Provincial legislation should be amended to ensure migrant workers in all sectors — including agriculture and caregiving — have access to effective and meaningful legal protection for the right to unionize and bargain collectively.

Provincial legislation, including employment standards acts, should be amended to ensure all terms of migrant workers’ contracts — including disputes about unjust termination — can be heard before a single expert administrative body (such as employment standards officers and the Ontario Labour

Relations Board) in an expedited process.

The full report can be found at

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