Groups peeved over elimination of benefits for foreign workers

Advocates representing foreign migrant workers are peeved over a recent move by the federal government to eliminate the special parental benefits for these workers, who contribute an estimated $3.4 million annually to Canada’s Employment Insurance (EI).
In December 2012, Human Resources Minister, Diane Finley announced that EI benefits will be eliminated for migrant workers. This program is solely funded by workers and their employers.

Migrant workers have been paying into Employment Insurance since 1966. But they only became aware that they were eligible for EI special benefits in 2002.

Caribbean and Mexican workers have used EI maternal and paternal benefits to provide much needed support for their newborn children, explained local activists.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Canada called the changes another attack on migrant workers’ rights after Ottawa introduced new regulations earlier in 2012 allowing corporate Canada to pay migrant workers 15 per cent less.

Two weeks ago, a delegation showed their frustration in the form of a large banner draped in front of Minister Finley’s office in Simcoe.

“Norfolk County is an agricultural community, which heavily relies on the contribution of agricultural workers for its economic survival and its branded identity as Ontario’s Garden. These men and women leave their families and children for months at a time, year after year, premiums are deducted from their salaries and this is a benefit that they are entitled to” says Donnaree Douglas a resident of Simcoe, Ontario.

Tzazna Miranda Leal, a member of Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW) argues that “these benefits meant families could stay healthy, and in some cases have kept children alive. We are calling on the federal government to restore them immediately.”

It’s estimated that migrant workers and their families pay over $400 million into the E.I. system and are now barred from receiving any of these funds, according to J4MW.

“This is money migrant workers and their employers paid in to the system, now Finley has decided to be a miser and steal it all away,” added migrant justice activist Amar Bathia. “Norfolk County’s agricultural industry would not survive without migrant workers. They have been subsidizing Canada’s EI system for almost half a century. Is this how we re-pay that debt?”

Meanwhile, The Camera has learned that as efforts are being made by the government to deal with issues facing unemployed Canadians and employment insurance, stakeholders in the temporary foreign worker program have been invited to a consultation with the two key ministers.

Last week some stakeholders met with Immigration and Citizenship Minister Jason Kenney and Human Resources Minister Diane Finley in Ottawa to examine a number of questions. Another consultation is expected mid march.
These questions being addressed during the consultations.
 How can the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) ensure that genuine efforts are being made to consider Canadians and permanent residents for jobs prior to hiring TFWs?
 What are some of the options to ensure that the unemployed or under-represented Canadians are provided with opportunities for jobs or training prior to hiring TFWs?
 What is the right balance between protecting the Canadian labour market and ensuring Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) can be hired where and when they are needed?
 How can the overall process of hiring a TFW be made more efficient while ensuring that effective labour market protections and worker protections are maintained?
 How should the costs of delivering the TFWP be shared between government, workers, and employers?
 Should there be additional pathways to permanent residence for lower skilled workers, and if so, on which criteria should their selection be based?
 Should these pathways be created by decreasing immigration in other categories (if so, which ones) or by increasing overall immigration level?”

An advocate for farm workers believe the consultations must involve the people who are most affected, migrant workers.
Chris Ramsaroop, spokesperson for J4MW said received an invitation to attend the consultations on Wednesday, February 27 at the end of Friday and so he had to quickly arrange to get time off from work.

He said he there has been no changes to the migrant workers program for years and that there are no substantial measures in place to deal with issues affecting farm workers, whom his organization advocates for.

He said there is need for “continued dialogue” adding that “fundamental changes need to happen on health and safety and the overall immigration.