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Migrant workers are part of our communities, where they live, work, shop and build relationships. Migrant workers are not “foreigners”, they are part of Ontario’s work force, and they are part of our labour market. Their participation in our decent work movement is crucial to our ability to win.
Unfortunately, bad employers and some journalists have pitted migrant workers against unemployed and underemployed Ontario workers. Instead of fighting at the bottom of the barrel for bad jobs, we must unite to increase rights for everyone and improve all our working conditions.
Migrant workers work some of the most dangerous and difficult jobs in Ontario, with some of the lowest wages and protections.Most migrant workers are in jobs that they have done for generations. Domestic workers have been coming to Canada since the 1800s, and this is the 50th year of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program. This isn’t about a short-term labour shortage, migrant work is permanent, and it is time they have the same rights as everyone else.
It’s no accident that many of the industries that are primarily made up of migrant workers are exempted from the Employment Standards Act. As a result, migrant workers are denied basic protections under the law, such as minimum wages, hours of work and more. When one industry is exempted from providing basic minimum standards, other employers want similar exemptions and loopholes.
This helps explain why today less than 25% of all workers are fully protected by the minimum standards in the ESA. This is a vivid example of how an injury to one becomes and injury to all.
The vast majority of Ontarians agree that we need rules that protect us all. We need specific changes in Ontario for migrant workers so that they can raise their voice and get the rights they deserve.
The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change has identified the following needed changes to Ontario’s labour laws that Fight for 15 and Fairness is supporting:
1. Migrant workers deserve the same rights as everyone else. There should be no special rules and exemptions by occupation.
2. Labour laws must be proactively enforced and community members must be able to complain about bad bosses.
3. Migrant workers need special anti-reprisal protections including their staying in the country while their complaints are being processed.
4. Agriculture workers and Caregivers must be able to unionize and bargain collectively and sectorally.
5. There should be no fees for work. Recruiters need to be licensed and migrant worker employers registered. These registries need to be public. Employers and recruiters need to be jointly financially liable for all fees paid to work by migrant workers. Joint liability must include any fees paid at any point in recruitment process.