By Jasminee Sahoye
The Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) has published a series of report cards summarizing the approaches of provincial and the federal governments on protecting the rights of migrant workers in the ‘low-skilled’ streams of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP).
The objective of the project is to raise awareness and provide a tool to advocate for the protection of migrant workers’ rights federally and in each province.
According to the CCR, Ontario hosts more Temporary Foreign Workers by far than any other province. The large numbers make it all the more important that the province improve protection and support for migrant workers. “The urgent need for action is highlighted by the fact that there have been several recent cases of migrant workers being trafficked into Ontario. “
Since 2006, the number of temporary foreign workers has almost doubled from 71,801 to 119,899 as of December 1, 2012.
Of the seven report cards, there was only one B and D and the others were graded Cs. One of the report cards states that the Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act (EPFNA) currently applies only to workers in the Live-in Caregiver Program, “but Ontario could easily extend its coverage to all other migrant workers through regulatory change. The effectiveness of EPFNA and of other labour legislation depends on adequately resourced and proactive enforcement, which are absent at this time.”
On Wednesday, the CCR hosted a webinar to discuss the report cards and how they may most appropriately be used by legislators and activists to affect what it calls “genuine and meaningful progressive change to the TFWP.
Naveen Mehta, General Counsel and Director of Human Rights, UFCW Canada and Marisa Berry Méndez, Settlement Policy Director, Canadian Council for Refugees hosted the webinar which was opened to advocates of migrant workers including immigration and labour lawyers, migrant workers, settlement agencies, unions and anyone with interest in the TFWP.
According to the 2012 report Made in Canada, “Among the most common complaints that migrant workers raise are that they do not know what their rights are when they arrive in Ontario; they do not know how to find out what their rights are; and they do not know what organizations are available to assist them.”
One of the CCR report cards states “legislation establishing a registration regime for both employers and recruiters, which Ontario currently lacks, could help to address the widespread problem of predatory recruiters as well as non-compliance with labour standards. It would also ensure that the provincial government knows where migrant workers are being employed in Ontario.”
It adds that “encouragingly, Ontario is moving towards an integrated approach to Occupational Health and Safety enforcement in order to respond to the gaps faced by vulnerable workers, including migrant workers, by developing a province-wide strategy, following a review by an Expert Advisory Panel which included many community partners.”
In terms of health coverage, the CCR report card states that low-skilled migrant workers, other than seasonal agricultural workers, must wait three months before they are eligible for provincial health coverage. “During this time employers are responsible for providing coverage, but in many cases it is not as extensive as OHIP, and some workers fall through the cracks. Workers also need a letter from their employer to apply for OHIP, and there have been reports of unscrupulous employers not providing this letter.”
It also states that migrant workers who suffer injury while employed in Ontario “have been disproportionately affected by the rule which deems a worker ineligible for compensation, if they could theoretically do a job not requiring the injured body part. Neither the job nor the retraining required to carry it out may be available in the worker’s home country.”