Recent data released by Citizenship and Immigration Canada reveals that the 250,000 permanent residents entering Canada on an annual basis is now being surpassed by over 280,000 migrant workers. This trend reflects a shift in immigration policy away from a model favouring permanent residency, which offers equal access to legal rights and a path to citizenship, to a heavy reliance on migrant workers who face low wages, uncertain immigration status and limited access to legal and labour rights.
While working in Canada, migrant workers are vulnerable to exploitation. They face control of their traveling documents, restriction in their physical mobility, employment tied to one employer and one contract, arbitrary repatriations and termination. For women working in the domestic sphere, exposure to violence, abuse and sexual exploitation may also be a daily reality. Migrant workers are too often exposed to long hours of work outside of the Employment Standards Act, precarious or unsafe working conditions, high levels of occupational accidents, discrimination, marginalization, isolation and social exclusion.
While the international community has begun to demand legal protections for migrant workers through International Labour Organization conventions and UN declarations, such as the 1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, Canada has too often refused to ratify these agreements or abide by international standards.
Finally, it should be noted that it is disproportionally women, refugees, individuals from racialized or displaced communities, and people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities who are in situations of forced migration. Women alone make up half of the global migration flow worldwide. Often these migrant workers are abused by recruiters in the countries of their origin who charge excessive fees. Yet, overlooked by the governments and international agencies profiting from the current labour import policies is a debate about the root causes behind why people are forced to migrate. All of the key players in the sector - migrant workers, labour union, community organizations and provincial, federal, and international institutions - need to be engaged in a discussion about developing standards and enforcement mechanisms for fair practice in migrant and temporary foreign worker recruitment, employment and treatment.
"On International Migrants Day, Ontario's labour movement is demanding respect for the rights of migrant workers, including the adoption, monitoring and enforcement of strong labour law protections and human rights legislation," said Ryan. "Precarious, temporary and vulnerable working conditions cannot be tolerated for any worker, or else they risk becoming the norm for every worker. It is time that Canada became a leader in good jobs and reversed the race to the bottom."
This December 18, the OFL is celebrating the valuable contribution that migrant workers and their families make to Canadian society by reaffirming its commitment to the defence of migrant workers rights. Ontario workers are calling for a radical shift in Canadian labour and immigration policies to entrench labour and human rights while promoting social and economic equality. The OFL will continue to work with community partners and build solidarity with other social movements in a common struggle for a more humane and inclusive Canada.
The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) represents 54 unions and one million workers in Ontario. For information, visit www.OFL.ca and follow the OFL on Facebook and Twitter: @OFLabour. Follow OFL President Sid Ryan on Twitter @SidRyan_OFL.
Ontario Federation of Labour - ENG/FRENCH
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