Ontario Federation of Labour

Ontario Federation of Labour

December 16, 2011 12:27 ET

JUSTICE AND DIGNITY ACROSS BORDERS: OFL Statement for December 18, 2011 International Migrants Day

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Dec. 16, 2011) - Just two days before International Migrants Day, the Government of Canada has finally ceded to public pressure and granted live-in caregivers "open work permits" that will grant them the freedom to seek new employment while waiting for permanent residency. While this is an important victory in challenging the abuse and exploitation that foreign caregivers often face at the hands of their employers, it also serves to underscore the need for Canada to grant full labour rights and protections to all migrant and temporary workers.

In 2000, the United Nations declared December 18 International Migrants Day to mark the anniversary of the 1999 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. The objective of the day is to promote the labour rights, human rights and fundamental freedoms of migrants, many of whom are working internationally to overcome poverty, conflict, human rights abuses and other forms of adversity to create a better life for their families.

Despite receiving more than 250,000 migrant workers every year through the federal Temporary Foreign Worker program, the Harper government continues to shamefully refuse to sign the Convention and recognize the inherent right of all workers - regardless of citizenship - to be protected from exploitation and to be able to collectively organize. Similarly, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty continues to uphold the policies of the Mike Harris government and deprive agricultural workers of the right to form a union. The lack of legal protections in Ontario and Canada leave many migrant and temporary workers vulnerable to exploitation at the hands of their employers. These workers are often exposed to precarious working conditions, abuse and the constant threat of repatriation.

"If the governments of Ontario and Canada won't support the most vulnerable workers in our economy, then they place in jeopardy the rights of all workers and the international reputation of Canada as a haven of democracy," said OFL President Sid Ryan. "Migrant workers pay income tax, EI and CPP contributions, and they play a vital role in our economy. Yet our governments continue to treat them as disposable commodities."

While migrant workers in Canada are covered under more than 50,000 individual contracts every year from a variety of industries and sectors of the economy, many are agricultural workers in the country's fields, greenhouses and orchards. These workers face 115 deaths and 1,500 serious injuries every year while bringing food to the table of Canadian families. However, when migrant workers attempt to assert their rights, collectively organize or otherwise challenge their exploitation, they often face expulsion from Canada and "blacklisting" from future work permits.

In British Columbia, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) recently filed charges with the BC Labour Board, alleging that the Mexican authorities conspired to blacklist migrant workers suspected of supporting union activities in order to decertify their local bargaining units in Canada. Not only do such aggressive acts of intimidation violate the Canadian Charter and Mexican law, but they involve a foreign government attempting to directly interfere with Canadian law. In Ontario, three migrant agriculture workers recently filed suit against the Canadian government and an Ontario agriculture operator after the workers were repatriated to Mexico in violation of Ontario's Employment Standards Act and without an explanation, hearing or compensation.

Unfortunately, migrant workers' rights were delivered a significant blow earlier this year when the Supreme Court of Canada sided with the Ontario government and the industrial corporate farm lobby in denying Ontario farm workers the same right to unionize and bargain collectively as other workers in Ontario. This decision contravened a 2008 ruling of the Ontario Court of Appeal that found Ontario restrictions on farm worker bargaining rights to be violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and just five months after the UN's International Labour Organization found both Canada and Ontario guilty of violating the human and labour rights of Ontario agriculture workers.

"In challenging a provincial court's indictment of the Agriculture Employees Protection Act, Premier McGuinty chose, once again, to take the side of big business over the interests of working people. While the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that the law offers no protection for agricultural workers, it is within McGuinty's power and responsibility to change bad laws," said Ryan. "To defend the status quo is to defend exploitation and abuse."

The Ontario Federation of Labour calls on the governments of Ontario and Canada to protect the labour and human rights of all workers and to provide expedited processes through which temporary foreign workers can gain permanent residency. In recognizing International Migrants Day, the OFL honours the courage, hard work and sacrifice of the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who contribute every year to the Canadian economy. We remain committed to supporting migrant and temporary workers across the province, and the country, in their struggle to win legal protection and collective bargaining rights.

The Ontario Federation of Labour represents 54 Ontario unions and over one million members.

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Contact Information

  • Ontario Federation of Labour
    Sid Ryan
    President
    416-209-0066 (cell)

    Ontario Federation of Labour
    Joel Duff
    Communications Director
    416-707-0349 (cell) FRENCH/ENGLISH