MIGRANT workers and supporters are calling Friday’s announced changes to the Temporary Foreign Workers Program a ‘mass deportation order’ which will forcibly remove and cut-short thousands of workers’ stay in the country. These changes will also lock-in workers with bad employers, and fail to ensure expanded protections or permanent immigration status.
“Today’s announcements are bad news for migrant workers. Migrant workers are still employed under an indentured system where they work without voice, without rights and without protections. In fact, today that system has been further entrenched. Genuine reforms would be permanent immigration status, anti-reprisal measures and equal access to social entitlements.
Instead, we are reinforcing a revolving door system where we are creating a permanent group of temporary workers that are denied rights that Canadians enjoy,” said Chris Ramsaroop, Justicia for Migrant Workers, Member of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.
“Today’s announcements underscore a two-tiered system. Low-waged and racialized people are being removed from the Immigration Ministry entirely, and with that many hopes for permanency are dashed. It’s a knee-jerk reaction that adds fuel to anti-immigrant fire. These changes also don’t deal with Canada’s jobless economic recovery since 2009. Not only will there be more abuse, more suffering, and fewer rights for migrant workers, there are no mechanisms for higher wages or decent working conditions for any worker in the country,” said Syed Hussan, coordinator, Member of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.
“[Employment and Social Development Minister Jason] Kenney confirmed today that migrants make up a small proportion of the labour force. The issue isn’t migrants taking jobs from citizen workers, its migrant workers being exploited and abused. That’s what migrant workers and their allies have raised for over a decade. It’s obvious that the Federal government refused to listen to the voices of migrant workers,” said Winston Morrison, migrant worker and member of Justicia for Migrant Workers, Member of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change
Preliminary analysis: Impact of today’s changes on migrant workers
On more temporariness for migrant workers:
Entrenching temporariness by reducing the length of time LMIAs will be issued and the cumulative period during which general low-wage temporary foreign workers will be allowed to remain in Canada will set an expiry limit on migrants’ lives, sever relationships and force thousands of workers to either leave the country or live here without rights as undocumented workers.
A further reduction in the number of years a migrant worker can stay in Canada will reinforce our current ‘revolving door’ immigration system where employers simply bring in a new group of more exploitable workers every few years.
A limit on the number of migrant workers that an employer can hire (10% for employers with more than 10 workers) will further reduce the ability of workers to switch jobs in sectors that are ‘at capacity’, forcing them to stay with abusive employers.
Higher LMO (now LMIA) fees will be downloaded to workers as there is no national recruiter regulation framework.
Replacing the NOC system with wage levels does not account for the fact that many migrant workers do not actually receive the wages they are promised in their employment contracts.
None of these changes speak to the government’s general push to temporary, precarious, and conditional status across all immigrant and refugee programs, with huge discretion given to employers under both federal programs and provincial nominee programs.
A crackdown on employers abusing the program is not possible in the context of a complaints-driven enforcement system, which requires migrant workers to speak out against employers they are tied to. There are no systems to ensure that migrant workers will actually assert their rights, as complaining to MoL can lead to deportation and is therefore simply not an option.
The increased number, scope and reviewable federal program requirements of inspections will not affect the temporariness of the program, the lack of worker voice, or the lack of permanent resident status. Reducing worker mobility and length of maximum stay in the country will only increase the likelihood that complaints will not be made.
The expanded and improved Tip Line also risks failing to respond to situations where workers are experiencing violations in working conditions or housing in situations of debt bondage.
If increased inspections, tips, complaints, and public blacklisting of employers are successful, the government has made no indication what the impact will be on migrant workers. Will they be free to stay, to change employers, to pay off recruitment fees and placement debts, and support and sponsor their families?
The additional funding for CBSA criminal investigations risks further criminalizing migrant workers, or painting them ultimately as victims without a say in whether they can go or stay here.
Apart from promised information-sharing that’s been demanded for a decade, there are no investments in partnering with provinces for proactive enforcement of labour and employment standards.
If the government were interested in genuine reforms to the program, it would not ignore the long-standing abuse of migrant farm workers and live-in caregivers. These sectors have been exempted from protections without reason.