This link includes both the highlights summary and the full report from the June 2017 Forum on migrant worker issues.
This International Workers Day, migrant workers in Canada are still waiting for the federal government to take substantive action to protect them from exploitation and to recognize the value of their contribution to the Canadian economy and communities.
Federal government must act for migrant workers
The Canadian Council for Refugees published today its recommendations for next steps to protect the rights of migrant workers in Canada, in the wake of the parliamentary committee report on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
The Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) welcomed the announcement of the federal government’s review of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) as an opportunity to address concerns with the program, particularly with regards to the human rights of participating migrant workers.
CCR submitted a brief to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA) outlining our key concerns and recommendations to improve the integrity of the program by protecting the rights of migrant workers.
The HUMA report was released on 19 September 2016. Now that the report has been published, the Canadian government needs to act quickly to address the serious shortcomings of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, both in response to the committee’s recommendations, and in order to address other critical issues inadequately covered in the report.
Open Work Permits
The CCR applauds the committee for its recommendation that the government immediately eliminate the requirement for closed (employer-specific) work permits. This important change is a necessary step toward reducing the vulnerability of migrant workers to abuse. However, we believe that work permits should be open (without restrictions), and migrant workers should have the same rights to labour mobility as Canadian workers.
Access to Permanent Residence
The CCR calls on the government to move swiftly to provide access to permanent residence for all migrant workers. This is crucial, since migrant workers’ precarious and temporary status is at the root of their vulnerability to abuse, as recognized by the committee report.
The committee’s recommendation, which prioritizes access for migrant workers who have integrated into Canadian society, fails to take into account that integration is virtually impossible for many migrant workers in the low-skilled categories. They often find themselves living with other foreign workers at workplaces in isolated locations, and are not entitled to language instruction, resulting in language barriers. In order to avoid discrimination and exclusion, “integration into Canadian society” must not be a prerequisite for access to permanent residence.
CCR believes workers should be able to apply for permanent resident status at the same time as they apply for a work permit. It has been documented that “pathways” to permanent residence that make migrant workers dependent on their employer for support create an opening for abuse.
As recommended by the committee, the CCR urges the government to remove the rule on cumulative duration (“four-in-four-out” rule).
Monitoring and Enforcement
The CCR welcomes the committee’s recommendations on monitoring and enforcement mechanisms, and believes the government must act quickly to address gaps in employer compliance and the protection of migrant workers’ rights, including ensuring proper enforcement of labour laws and a system for regulating recruiters, as outlined in the report.
As the committee notes, migrant workers must be informed of their rights under the program, including how to report abuse. These measures must be accompanied by provisions to ensure that workers have support and recourse in cases where reporting abuse results in loss of employment, and that they are protected from involuntary repatriation.
The committee heard compelling testimony on several crucial issues that were not addressed in the final recommendations.
Settlement services: The federal government should expand eligibility criteria for settlement services to all migrant workers including Temporary Foreign Workers and Seasonal Agricultural Workers. The lack of access to services and language instruction leads to isolation, lack of information and support, and increased vulnerability.
Family reunification: Migrant workers should be allowed to bring their spouses and children to Canada with them, to prevent the negative mental health impacts of family separation on individuals and communities. Migrant workers who participated in the committee hearings spoke eloquently about the impact of long-term separation on themselves and their families.
Seasonal Agricultural Workers: Participants in the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program find themselves in similar situations of vulnerability, protracted family separation, and abuse as other migrant workers, and should benefit from any improvements made to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. These changes are necessary to address the abusive practices within the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program that the Committee heard about.
The HUMA report speaks to some of the key concerns brought forward by migrant workers and migrant worker rights’ advocates, and can be a useful tool for policy change. The federal government must act on the concerns brought forward by witnesses and those who submitted briefs, in the interest of protecting migrant worker rights and strengthening Canadian society by allowing all workers to contribute and benefit equally.
Beyond reviews focused on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, CCR believes that there must be a public conversation about the shift in recent years within Canadian immigration policy towards temporary labour migration. CCR believes that Canada must move away from the increasing reliance on temporary labour migration programs that are fraught with abuse, and return to using permanent immigration as a strategy for meeting labour market demands, and for nation-building. More specifically, we recommend that Canada’s economic immigration program be revised to include low-skilled workers who can come as immigrants without being separated from their families or subject to the precariousness of employer-sponsored pathways to permanent residence.
CCR encourages the government to call on civil society for input when developing changes to this and other programs. Migrant workers themselves and the organizations that work with them are the best positioned to inform policy changes, and we invite the government to foster a relationship of ongoing consultation and collaboration.
This is the CCR's submission to HUMA (the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities) during their review of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, May-June 2016.
This Canada-wide study focuses on access to settlement and support services for migrant workers in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (including Caregivers) and the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program. The research relies on information supplied by front-line workers at settlement agencies, community organizations and grassroots groups across the country.
The objectives of the project are as follows:
- Ascertain the roles of settlement agencies and other NGOs in delivering settlement and other community services to migrant workers
- Gather data on how migrant workers are or aren’t being served across Canada, including best practices and gaps
- Highlight the perspectives and expertise of those on the front lines of settlement work across Canada
- Gather information on the settlement sector’s perspectives regarding service provision for migrant workers, filling in gaps with information from other organizations who provide services to TFWs
- Develop recommendations based on the gaps identified in survey responses.
This project was conducted jointly by: Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR), Affiliation of Multicultural Societies and Service Agencies of BC (AMSSA), Alberta Association of Immigrant Serving Agencies (AAISA), and Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI).
Click on the links below to see the project backgrounder, the full report, and the individual provincial/regional and federal reports.
Full report - Migrant Workers: Precarious and Unsupported
On 11 June, 2014 the International Labour Organization (ILO) adopted a new Protocol to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930. The Protocol is relevant to trafficking in persons and specifies measures to prevent trafficking for the purpose of forced labour and to adequately protect and support survivors.
The purpose of the Protocol is to address the gaps in the implementation of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930. While the Protocol reaffirms the definition of forced labour established by the 1930 Convention, it also recognizes the need to update measures in view of changes to the global context and to respond to current trends and forms of abuse. These include abuses against vulnerable workers, especially migrants in the private sector, and trafficking in persons for the purposes of forced or compulsory labour, which may involve sexual exploitation.
A non-binding Recommendation on supplementary measures for the effective suppression of forced labour was also negotiated by ILO members. The recommendation is meant to provide legal guidance to governments in implementing the Convention and the Protocol and suggests additional measures to take to adequately prevent and protect people from forced or compulsory labour.
The Protocol and recommendation are particularly relevant to Canada’s efforts to address different forms of forced labour and abuse, including labour trafficking, which overwhelmingly affects migrant workers in Canada. Currently, Canadian labour laws fail to adequately protect migrant workers, leaving them at risk of abuse, conditions of forced or compulsory labour, exploitation and human trafficking. This is a growing yet preventable problem. Canada has ratified the 1930 Convention, signalling its commitment to eliminate forced labour. All the more reason to turn to the Protocol and recommendation as these provide important tools to strengthen Canada’s prevention and protection measures against different forms of forced or compulsory labour and abuse.
The Canadian Council for Refugees is therefore calling upon the government of Canada to ratify the Protocol to the Forced Labour Convention and to implement all of its provisions, and urges the government to adopt the Protocol’s recommendation.
The following summary highlights the Protocol’s key measures as they pertain to prevention, protection, and to effective remedies necessary to adequately address forced or compulsory labour, including trafficking in persons.
Protocol to the Forced Labour Convention: Key measures
The Protocol requires ratifying governments to implement the following measures:
- Develop a national policy and plan of action for the elimination of forced labour, in collaboration and coordination with workers’ and employers’ organizations, among other civil society groups concerned;
- Educate and inform people who are considered to be at risk of being subjected to forced or compulsory labour, as well as employers so as to prevent them from participating in exploitative practices;
- Ensure that labour and other laws relevant to preventing forced labour extend and apply to all workers and economic sectors;
- Improve labour inspections and other services responsible for implementing labour laws;
- Protect individuals, particularly migrant workers, from exploitative and fraudulent practices during the recruitment and placement process;
- Support the public and private sectors in taking action to prevent and respond to risks of forced or compulsory labour in their operations;
- Address the root causes and factors that increase the risk of forced labour;
- Establish measures to effectively identify, release, protect and provide assistance and support to individuals who have been subjected to forced labour, including through measures that facilitate their recovery and rehabilitation;
- Ensure that people who have been subjected to forced labour have access to necessary remedies, including to justice and compensation, regardless of their immigration status;
- Ensure that authorities have discretion not to prosecute or impose penalties on people who have been subjected to forced labour for participating in unlawful activities committed as a direct consequence of their forced labour situation;
- Cooperate internationally to prevent and eliminate all forms of forced and compulsory labour.
Forced Labour Recommendation: Key supplementary measures
The recommendation supplementing the Convention and the Protocol provides further detailed guidance for governments to support their actions in the areas of protection, prevention, remedies, enforcement and international cooperation. Some of the key measures include:
- Collecting reliable data on the nature and extent of forced or compulsory labour, in order to allow for an assessment to be made;
- Establishing or strengthening time-bound policies and plans of action with a gender- and child-sensitive approach, alongside relevant authorities and mechanisms concerned with forced labour, in consultation with employers’ and workers’ organizations and other groups concerned.
- Carrying out targeted efforts to identify and release individuals subjected to forced labour;
- Offering protection measures to survivors of forced labour without conditioning protection to their cooperation in criminal or other proceedings;
- Taking effective measures to meet the immediate and long-term needs of survivors, including:
- Efforts to protect their safety, the safety of their family members and of witnesses;
- Offering specialized services (i.e. adequate accommodation, health care, and rehabilitation services, among others) to survivors of forced labour, including those who have also been subjected to sexual violence;
- Providing material, social and economic assistance.
- Offering protection to migrants subjected to forced labour regardless of their immigration status, including:
- A reflection and recovery period to allow survivors to decide on protection measures and legal action;
- Temporary or permanent residence permits and access to the labour market, as well as facilitating safe and voluntary repatriation.
- Creating initiatives that address child labour and create educational opportunities for girls and boys;
- Providing basic social security guarantees;
- Carrying out targeted awareness-raising campaigns, for groups at risk of being subjected to forced labour, as well as campaigns regarding penalties on participating in forced labour practices;
- Offering orientation and information for migrants before departure and upon arrival;
- Creating policies that consider the risks faced by specific groups of migrants and addressing the conditions that could result in situations of forced labour;
- Coordinating efforts with other governments to prevent trafficking in persons, including efforts to regulate, license and monitor labour recruiters and employment agencies and to eliminate the charging of recruitment fees to workers.
- Ensuring that all survivors, citizens and non-citizens, have access to justice and other remedies, such as compensation for personal and material damages;
- Making information accessible to survivors regarding their legal rights and services available to them, as well as facilitating access to preferably free legal assistance.
- Holding companies and other legal entities liable for forced labour, which should be subject to penalties such as confiscation of profits from forced labour or other assets;
- Strengthening identification measures and developing indicators to be used by labour inspectors, law enforcement services, social workers, immigration officers, public prosecutors, employers, employers’ and workers’ organizations, non-governmental organizations and other relevant actors.
- Strengthening cooperation internationally between institutions overseeing labour-related law enforcement, in addition to criminal law enforcement;
- Cooperating internationally to address and prevent the use of forced labour by diplomatic personnel.
 Article 2.1 of the Forced Labour Convention defines forced or compulsory labour as “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily”.
Looking back on changes in 2014
While 2013 was marked by provincial action, 2014 has been a year marked by federal government changes to the migrant worker reality.
May: The government announced a moratorium on using migrant workers in the restaurant industry.
June: The government announced a major overhaul to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) as a whole.
September: The government published a discussion paper with a proposed compliance framework for employers who break the rules.
November: The government announced changes to the Caregiver Program (formerly Live-in Caregiver Program).
In presenting the changes, the government has emphasized the potential benefits for Canadian workers and the economy. For the CCR, protecting migrant workers’ rights should be the primary focus of changes.
Specific concerns include the following:
- Workers’ time in Canada will be cut even shorter. The government has announced that it will reduce still further the four-year limit first imposed in 2011. This time limit, which only applies to workers in the low-wage stream, exacerbates existing vulnerabilities.
- Workers may be penalized for their employer’s wrongdoing. The government plans to revoke employers’ Labour Market Impact Assessment if they violate the rules, but has announced no measures to protect migrant workers in their employ. They will lose their work permits and their status, and be at risk of deportation.
- Caregivers lose guaranteed right to permanent residence. The introduction of caps on permanent residence applications in the program means that some caregivers will now be excluded from access to permanent residence. This represents a step backward.
Details of CCR concerns are found in:
- Response to 2014 Changes (prepared before changes to the Caregiver Program were announced)
- Comments on Regulatory proposals to enhance the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and International Mobility Program compliance framework.
Looking forward to 2015
April 2015 will be four years since the four-year limit on migrant workers’ stay in Canada was imposed in April 2011. This means that many Temporary Foreign Workers will lose their right to work in Canada. There is concern over the hardship this will likely cause to affected workers, especially those whose families depend on their remittances, or who are still repaying debts from recruitment fees (illegally imposed on them). Some workers may choose to remain in Canada and seek more precarious work, without access to status or services, in order to keep providing for their families back home.
The CCR believes that Canada’s reliance on temporary labour migration programs is problematic because it compromises migrants’ rights, when all migrant workers should have access to permanent residence.
Our vision for 2015 includes:
- Government priority to protecting the rights of vulnerable migrant workers.
- Access to permanent residence for all migrant workers.
- An economic immigration program expanded to reflect the broad range of labour needs of the Canadian economy by including workers of all skill levels, including those currently entering on a temporary basis to fill low-wage jobs.
In the past, Canada has focused on nation-building through permanent immigration. The CCR believes that Canada should move back towards such a model, and away from the temporary migration that promotes a two-tiered, stratified society.
Traditionally a country of permanent immigration, Canada is becoming a country where migrant workers are brought in on a temporary basis. In 2008, for the first time, the number of Temporary Foreign Workers in Canada exceeded the total number of permanent residents admitted in the same year.
Migrant workers are vulnerable to exploitation because of the precariousness of their status in Canada. Furthermore, addressing labour demands through a “disposable” workforce of migrant workers creates a two-tiered society. The effect may be to drive wages down – the perception that this is happening feeds into xenophobic reactions to migrant workers. The Temporary Foreign Worker Program is itself a two-tiered program, admitting both high-skilled workers, who enjoy a number of advantages, and workers filling positions not requiring formal training, who do not have access to the same conditions.
In June 2014 the federal government announced an “overhaul” of the program, with several significant changes. The changes are intended to “put Canadians first”, ensuring they are prioritized for jobs over the migrant workers participating in the programs. The following are some key concerns and highlights of the changes from the CCR’s perspective.
- The changes include a commitment to improved information sharing between federal government departments and other levels of government. This is an important opportunity to facilitate provincial and territorial enforcement efforts, and to increase the federal government’s enforcement capacity.
- The changes include an increase in the number and scope of inspections. However, the text refers exclusively to abuse of the program, rather than of workers, so it isn’t clear that the inspections will lead to improved protection of migrant workers’ rights. (Also, changes announced in December 2013 included increased inspections, yet in June 2014 when the recent changes were announced, not a single inspection had been carried out, leading to doubts about how effectively this measure will be implemented.) Proactive enforcement is essential to protecting migrant workers’ rights and ensuring the integrity of the program.
- The changes are all about preventing abuses of the program, not of the migrant workers.
- It was announced that CBSA would take a significant role in the increased inspections. If Labour Market Impact Assessments (LMIAs) and work permits are suspended or revoked in response to an employer’s violation of the regulations, workers will suddenly find themselves without legal status in Canada, through no fault of their own. There is serious concern that CBSA will not only enforce employer violations, but enact its mandate to deport people in Canada without legal status, thus unfairly punishing workers who are rendered undocumented as a result of their employer’s infractions
- The changes cut in half the amount of time migrant workers are allowed to be in Canada (four years to two years). This deepens the temporary status of the workers: Canada should instead be opening the door to immigrants on a long-term basis. The time limit also gives migrant workers less time to work off their debts, often the result of sizeable recruitment fees charged (illegally) by recruiters who lure them into the program on false pretences. We may see as a result an increase in the number of migrant workers forced to go underground once their work permits expire, and therefore an increase in vulnerability.
- The changes include an increase in fees for employers bringing in workers through the program, intended to cover program costs. It has been documented that fees and costs to the employer are frequently downloaded to the worker in various ways, such as wage deductions or exorbitant rent. If work permits were open, as CCR recommends, workers would be able to leave employers that download these costs.
- The federal government must take responsibility for preventing abuse by predatory recruiters. While it is positive that the federal government has written to the provinces and territories encouraging them to implement or strengthen laws against predatory recruiters within their jurisdictions, abuse by recruiters in the migrant workers’ country of origin is a huge problem. By not addressing the problem, the government impairs the program’s integrity.
The CCR believes that:
- Migrant workers should have open or sector/region-specific work permits to allow them the option of leaving an abusive employer.
- Any time limits should be placed on employers, not workers, to prevent employers from using temporary workers with fewer rights to meet long-term labour demands.
- Employers should be subject to regular inspections to ensure compliance, and migrant workers should not be penalized for the violations of their employers. There should be a mechanism put in place to protect workers who are rendered undocumented as a result of their employer’s infractions.
- Migrant workers should have access to federally funded settlement and support services.
- Migrant workers should have access to permanent residence.
- Canada should review the focus of immigrant selection on high-skilled immigrants – the increasing demand for Temporary Foreign Workers may mean that Canada needs more "low-skilled" immigrants who currently don’t qualify under the point system.
For more information:
CCR campaign for migrant workers’ rights: ccrweb.ca/en/migrant-workers
Employment and Social Development Canada, Discussion Paper: Regulatory proposals to enhance the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and International Mobility Program compliance framework, September 2014.
Government of Canada, Overhauling the Temporary Foreign Worker Program: Putting Canadians First, June 2014.
On June 20, 2014, the Government of Canada announced extensive reforms to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) to ensure that qualified Canadians and permanent residents are given first chance at available jobs. At the same time, the TFWP was re-organized into two distinct programs: the TFWP will now refer to only those streams under which foreign workers enter Canada at the request of employers following approval through a new Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). The new International Mobility Program (IMP) incorporates streams in which foreign nationals are not subject to an LMIA and whose primary objective is to advance Canada’s broad economic and cultural national interest, rather than filling particular jobs.
For those streams that will continue as part of the TFWP, the recent reforms include a new LMIA process, a cap to limit the proportion of low-wage temporary foreign workers that a business can employ, and a requirement for employers of temporary foreign workers in high-wage occupations to submit transition plans to ensure that they are taking steps to reduce their reliance on foreign workers over time.
As part of these reforms, Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) and Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) are moving ahead with a compliance framework intended to deter and respond to employer non-compliance with TFWP/IMP requirements and conditions.
A discussion paper was published to provide an overview of proposed regulatory changes and seek comments from interested parties. These are the CCR's comments in response to the discussion paper.