Ontario Federation of Labour

Ontario Federation of Labour

May 16, 2013 11:01 ET

Damning Report Says Ontario Is Failing Migrant Workers

OFL Calls on Wynne Government to Protect Rights of Vulnerable Workers

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - May 16, 2013) - OFL calls on Ontario Government to respond immediately to a new report that gives the province shameful grades for failing to protect the rights of migrant workers. The Migrant Workers Federal and Provincial Report Cards, released today by the Canadian Council for Refugees, expose gaps in provincial legislation, enforcement and information that put Ontario's more than 120,000 migrant workers at great risk and with little recourse to justice.

"Ontario has more migrant workers than any other province in Canada and yet we continue to treat them as an expendable work force," said OFL President Sid Ryan. "In 2009, four migrant construction workers plunged to their deaths from the thirteenth floor of a West Toronto high rise and, in 2012, ten migrant farm workers were killed in a horrific accident near Hampstead, Ontario. These tragedies are a chilling wake-up call about the risks that vulnerable workers face when they lack legal protection, proper training and knowledge of their rights."

The national report card gives Ontario a "C-" for its lack of legal protection for migrant workers and a "D" for failing to educate vulnerable workers about their rights. Ontario received its lowest grade, a "D-", for failing to provide migrant workers with access to permanent residence, while other provincial governments have used the Provincial Nominee Program to give low-skilled migrant workers access to permanent residence.

According to the report, lack of tracking of migrant workers means that the province often does not even know where migrant workers are located, much less how they are being treated. Currently, Ontario's only legislation providing specific protections for migrant workers applies to live-in caregivers. This leaves the tens of thousands of migrants working on farms, construction sites, factories and many other workplaces with the poorly enforced Employment Standard Act to fall back on. However, without proper education on those rights or proactive employer spot-checks, the province's migrant workers live in constant fear of losing their job and being deported. The full set of report cards can be downloaded from this link: http://ccrweb.ca/en/migrant-workers-report-cards

"Ontario cannot continue to keep migrant workers out of sight and out of mind. These workers put food on the tables of Ontario families and take care of our children, but they often live and work in deplorable conditions," said Ryan. "Every worker in Ontario, regardless of nationality or citizenship, should be treated with dignity and respect and have access to healthcare, workers compensation, and information about their rights."

The report shows that Ontario lags behind provinces like Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia that have shown leadership by passing legislation offering protections to migrant workers through initiatives such as employer licensing systems, monitoring recruitment fees and the implementation of tough penalties for violations. Meanwhile, Ontario is also one of the only two provinces in Canada that denies agricultural workers the right to collective bargaining, affecting many migrant farm workers. Gaps in provincial health care coverage and over-punitive workplace compensation policies merely compound the injustices faced by these workers.

"For migrant farm workers like Juan Ariza, who is one of three Peruvian workers who were critically injured in the Hampstead tragedy that claimed the lives of ten of his co-workers, survival means an uncertain future," said Ryan. "Ariza was in Canada for only three days before his life was changed forever. He was injured in Canada and he needs to stay here for benefits and treatment, but one year later his permanent residency application is still hanging in limbo."

The OFL is joining the Canadian Council for Refugees in calling on the Ontario Government to extend the Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act to all migrant workers. It is also calling for the implementation of a registration system for employers and recruiters to better detect exploitation, proactive enforcement of employment standards, and collaboration with the federal government to provide pathways to permanent residence for all migrant workers.

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.

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