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Migrant workers - Necessary reform (RHFW - Speech Senate)




DTMF-RHFW and Eugénie Depatie-Pelletier


Speech (below - 5 min) + 55 min (Questions of Senators & answers)

Length (Mins)


Place published



Commission des affaires sociales, des sciences et de la technologie du Sénat canadien

Full text


Je suis Eugénie Depatie-Pelletier, directrice générale de l’Association pour la défense des droits des travailleuses de maison et de ferme, docteure en droit et professeure associée au département de géographie de l’université Laval à Québec. J’étudie la main-d’oeuvre migrante et temporaire depuis plus de 20 ans et je m’adresserai à vous aujourd’hui en anglais vu l’intérêt envers vos travaux démontrés par des partenaires de l’Australie, du Mexique, de l’Allemagne, du Royaume-Unis et des États-Unis.

Dear Members of the Senate Committee on Social Affairs,
Thank you for inviting me to attend today's meeting.

Canada has a long history of using immigration policy to consolidate its labour force. This includes admitting workers and their families with permanent status, allowing them to work for any employer in Canada, leave and return to the country, settle if they wish, and after a certain time, become citizens.
We also admit foreign workers on open work permits, which equally provides the right to work for practically any employer in the country. However, at an increasing rate, the federal government facilitates the admission of workers on employer-tied work authorizations, making the right to legally work in Canada conditional on a relationship with a sponsoring, specific, employer.
For many of these workers, no or very exceptional access to permanent status keeps them in a perpetual state of dependency on their employer in order to maintain their right to legal employment in Canada.
The imposition of employer-tied work permits, and other similar federal measures, negates the worker’s right to work for any other employer - undermining workers’ capacity to resign, refuse unsafe work, assert their rights and seek justice, in cases of violations. This, as already confirmed by American jurisprudence, places the worker in a legal condition of servitude. Scientific evidence has now established that employer-tied work authorizations restrict workers’ physical liberty, and are associated, with higher risks of employer abuse, wage theft, psychological, physical, and sexual harassment and assault, rape, debt bondage, human trafficking, as well as work-related illnesses, accidents and death. In fact, such legal status for migrant workers was characterized as “a modern form of slavery” in a 2006 unanimous decision by the Supreme Court of Israel.
The Canadian government has attempted to address the high risk of abuse through increased employer requirements, recruitment regulation, greater oversight over work contracts, and legal information initiatives. These efforts however systematically fail, unsurprisingly so, since the subordinated legal status, that prevents in the first place migrant workers from asserting their rights, remains enforced. Band-aid solutions cannot mitigate the state-increased risk of rights violations, inherent in a system where as a general rule the right to change employers is negated. The current situation is at odds with how Canada defines itself, a free and democratic society, founded on the principles of human dignity, and equality. Furthermore, by removing competitiveness between employers, this unfree labour regime places a downward pressure on wages and working conditions, within the affected sectors, for all workers including citizens. Righting this wrong cannot be achieved by tinkering at the edges of the problem.
At a minimum, Canada must abolish all employer-tying measures and emancipate the labour force currently unfree in the country. How would that be accomplished? It would require replacing employer-tied authorizations with open work permits. The hiring permits, currently granted to specific employers, or to specific groups of employers, would be replaced by the establishment of annual skill quotas, based on provincial labour shortages assessments, fixing the numbers and skills of the foreign workers to be sponsored by the Federal government itself. The international recruitment, placement, and integration of workers must be accomplished through bilateral government services, state-funded community integration, as well as micro-loan programs. This would minimize the high risk of abusive practices and debt bondage associated recruitment industries dominated by private actors. With these reforms, Canada would achieve the objectives of its foreign worker programs, without severely compromising the fundamental rights of migrants, nor consolidating a growing underclass of unfree workers, in the country.
Furthermore, to respect the fundamental right to psychological integrity, we must automatically issue open work and study permits to the spouses and children of all workers, and ensure that our programs stop destroying families and children, and recognize the basic human principle of family unity. In addition, since meaningful access to justice requires permanent legal status, workers must be provided, upon arrival, with an independent access to permanent legal status. Finally, an ongoing, universal, regularization procedure is mandatory, as individuals with temporary permits systematically lose their legal status, often because of employer negligence or bad faith, fraudulent immigration consultants, if not because of illness, accident, or pregnancy.

More details on the problems associated with the current regime, and the necessary reforms, will be included in a memo, prepared by our organization, for the Committee’s attention.
Thank you, for your interest in these, essential, matters.


Geographical focuses

Canada, Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec, British Columbia, Other provinces, Federal, Nova Scotia, and National relevance