TORONTO, ONTARIO -- (Marketwire) -- 12/17/12 -- Only days before the international community celebrates International Migrants Day, Canada's Conservative government quietly introduced new rules stripping migrant workers of benefits they pay for. On December 10, International Human Rights Day, special parental, maternal and compassionate benefits were eliminated for 30,000 seasonal agricultural workers even though they help to subsidize Canada's Employment Insurance fund. Contrary to what many would consider to be Canadian values, these vulnerable workers will no longer be entitled to collect a fraction of their wages while caring for newborn or sick children. This policy is shamefully consistent with Canada's recent history of exploiting migrant workers to lower the bar for all workers.
Established in 1990 through the United Nations International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, December 18 is celebrated around the world as International Migrants Day. This day is an important opportunity to promote the labour rights, human rights and fundamental freedoms of migrants, many of whom are working internationally to overcome poverty, social conflict, human rights abuses and other forms of adversity to create a better life for their families.
Issues facing migrant workers has become the frequent subject of media reporting in recent years. After six weeks of disturbing news about the E-Coli contaminated meat crisis in the XL Meat Plant in Brooks, Alberta, many people were shocked to learn that 2,000 workers at the plant were migrant workers. Those foreign workers were working under temporary permits and all were laid off as a result of the crisis. Their precarious employment circumstances served to underline the vulnerability of migrant workers. In British Columbia, organized labour forced the Ministry of Human Resources to review the Temporary Foreign Workers Program when it was revealed that companies such as a subsidiary of Chinese Dehua Mines were exclusively soliciting Mandarin-speaking workers in an attempt to circumvent federal rules requiring them to locate and train Canadian workers.
"The Harper government is attempting to remodel the Canadian workforce around corporate interests by using global competition to drive down wages for all workers," said OFL President Sid Ryan. "The intense emphasis on recruiting migrant workers in nearly every sector is a bold-faced attempt to exploit the most desperate and vulnerable workers while driving down wages across the board. Harper calls it a 'flexible workforce' but it is obvious that what he means is a 'disposable workforce.'"
The omnibus Federal Budget Bill C-38, introduced early in 2012 made it legal to pay migrant workers in any industry up to 15 percent less than domestic workers. Furthermore, the Bill also introduced new requirements that could force Employment Insurance recipients to accept jobs posted through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), which would result in unemployed Canadian workers competing with foreign workers for jobs paying substandard wages. As the use of imported temporary labour is increasingly used to replace good jobs with decent wages and benefits, both migrant and domestic workers are bearing the brunt of austerity economic policies.
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