Ontario Federation of Labour

Ontario Federation of Labour

December 17, 2013 17:14 ET

OFL Calls for a Migrant Workers' Bill of Rights to End Exploitation

OFL Statement for December 18, 2013 International Migrants Day

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - Dec. 17, 2013) - Ontario's shameful treatment of migrant workers made headlines throughout 2013, after scandal, exploitation and abuse attracted unprecedented public exposure to the misuse of the Temporary Foreign Workers' Program (TFWP). This December 18, the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) is recognizing International Migrants Day by calling on the Ontario government to implement a Migrant Workers' Bill of Rights to put an end to exploitation and abuse.

Established in 1990 through the United Nations International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, December 18 is celebrated around the world as International Migrants Day. This day is an important opportunity to promote the labour rights, human rights and fundamental freedoms of migrants, many of whom are working internationally to overcome poverty, social conflict, human rights abuses and other forms of adversity to create a better life for their families.

Many migrant workers who find themselves working in Canada encounter a new and unfamiliar country, where they don't know the laws and often don't speak the language. In many cases, they have travelled from some of the worlds most economically depressed conditions to strive for a better life for their families. These circumstances that make migrant workers so deserving of protection also make them vulnerable to exploitation.

"Because of a lack of education, advocacy and protection, many migrant workers aren't free to report or resist abuses, injuries or unfair treatment," said OFL President Sid Ryan. "The persistence of their exploitation creates downward pressure on the wages and working conditions of all workers in Canada. It is time that Ontario put an end to this exploitation by extending universal workplace rights to all workers through a Migrant Workers' Bill of Rights."

Under the Harper government's watch, the number of migrant workers coming to Canada has grown dramatically and Canada's intake of migrant workers is vastly outpacing the number of economic immigrants. 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. In Ontario, this has meant that in 2012, only 49,000 economic immigrants were granted permanent residency, while over 70,000 migrant workers were given temporary work permits. 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.

"In 2008, Ontario employers brought in 60,000 migrant workers while, at the same time, the Ontario economy lost over 164,000 jobs. This dramatic increase in migrant workers in Ontario is no accident," said Ryan. "The Harper government is ramping up the expansion of the TFWP in every sector, with a particular emphasis on low-skilled migrant workers. It puts the lie to the myth that migrant workers are being used to address labour shortages."

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.

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.

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.

This December 18, the OFL is celebrating the valuable contribution that migrant workers and their families make to Canadian society by calling on the Government of Ontario to implement a Migrant Workers' Bill of Rights that would entrench labour protections and human rights for all migrant workers, including access to permanent residence and citizenship rights, union protection, health care benefits and a ban on recruitment fees and exploitation. The OFL continues to work with community partners and build solidarity with other social movements in a common struggle for a more humane and inclusive Canada.

Read the full Bill of Rights at: http://ofl.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013.08-MigrantWorkers-Report.pdf.

"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. By adopting a Bill of Rights for Migrant Workers, Ontario could promote immigration, not exploitation."

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.

Contact Information

  • Ontario Federation of Labour
    Joel Duff
    Communications Director
    416-707-0349 (cell)
    jduff@ofl.ca (ENG/FRENCH)