Low-skilled migrant workers were left further exposed to exploitation by changes made to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program under the previous Conservative government.
A new report by an Ontario charity concludes that the 2014 move to place caps on numbers of TFWs and limit how long they could stay in Canada created an atmosphere of uncertainty that played into the hands of unscrupulous employers.
Fay Faraday, the human rights lawyer who wrote the report for the Metcalf Foundation, says the Liberal government’s review of the system represents a crossroads for Canada, between viewing temporary labour as a commodity and constructing a framework to give the workers back their rights.
“A multi-dimensional rights-based approach is needed to build effective protection for decent work,” Faraday writes.
“Such an approach must be anchored in human rights and labour rights and it must reject the commodification of labour and be anchored in a firm commitment to worker protection.”
Campaigners have for years sought a change in the rule that ties a TFW to one employer during their time in Canada.
With that employer holding the power to send them back to their home countries, TFWs are reluctant to raises questions over the way they are treated for fear of losing their visa.
That leads to cases like that of Jennilyn Morris, the cleaning company owner jailed in Edmonton for exploiting TFWs.
When Harper’s government put further restrictions in place, workers’ advocates claimed it made the situation worse, according to Faraday’s report, with workers having to compete for limited numbers of renewal places and the government issuing visa for only one year.
Faraday writes: “Migrant workers’ insecurity is a product of choices that federal and provincial governments have made in developing the legal and policy systems that govern these workers’ labour migration journey.
“Their insecurity is an entirely foreseeable outcome of those choices.
“With Canada’s labour migration policy at a crossroads, what future will we choose?”
The report concluded with the following recommendations:
- Canadian immigration policy must be reframed to ensure that workers of all skill levels can apply to immigrate to Canada for permanent resident status.
- Migrant workers of all skill levels who are working in Canada should have access to secure pathways to apply for and receive permanent residence. They should be able to do so independently without requiring a nomination by their employer.
- Migrant workers must have a voice in shaping the policies that govern their treatment in Canada.
These recommendations appear short sighted. Migrant workers and Canadians alike must surely be protected against exploitation by employers. However temporary low skilled foreign workers who choose to apply to work in Canada must do so knowing that their relocation has a finite term and they will be required to leave Canada afterwards. For the few who are able to transition to permanent residence, they will be able to improve their qualifications and meet existing pathways under permanent residence streams. Those who cannot must look to other destinations beyond Canada.
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