Provincial labour laws allow foreign workers to be treated like slaves, say advocates
- Newspaper title
The Windsor Star
- Full text
Ontario’s labour laws need a significant overhaul to improve working conditions for migrant workers, say social justice advocates representing employees in Essex County.
Thousands of foreign workers throughout the region often don’t receive basic employment benefits, such as premium overtime pay, minimum wage or even scheduled coffee breaks because of special exemptions outlined in the province’s labour laws.
Those special rules, common throughout segments of the agricultural sector, need to change, said Tzazna Miranda of Justicia for Migrant Workers, an organization that advocates for the interests of foreign workers.
Her group will share its concerns with two government appointed advisers, who will be in Windsor on Tuesday to get input as part of their review of Ontario’s labour and employment standards over “We thought it was important to … highlight the issues that often get forgotten about in these reviews and that have often been neglected,” Miranda said. “We want an end to all special rules and all exemptions from the Employees Standard Act.”
The exemptions create a particularly unhealthy work environment for those coming to Canada through the federal temporary foreign worker program because employees often have limited knowledge of the country’s labour laws, she said.
They are often forced to work long hours because employers threaten to send them home, if they complain, said several migrant workers who are employed in Essex County and spoke Monday at a news conference organized by Miranda’s group.
Adrian Monrose, 40, was shocked when he realized the working conditions at a farm in Leamington when he arrived in 2009 from St. Lucia, an island nation in the eastern Caribbean. He and his co-workers put in long hours without extra pay for overtime or holiday work.
“Holiday pay, we don’t get that,” he said. “We do not know what’s a holiday. We don’t know what’s a Sunday. Sometimes those guys don’t even have time to cook food for themselves, they don’t even have time to clean their laundry and yet they still have to go out and work.”
Labour law exemptions in Ontario apply to all workers, including Canadian citizens, but given that Essex County alone has as many as 5,000 temporary foreign workers toiling in the region’s fields during peak seasons, those rules heavily target migrant employees.
“These are rules that apply to everyone in agriculture, but we know in this region most everyday farm workers are foreign workers,” Miranda said. “These exemptions do not make any sense. We want them all scrapped. We want everyone to have the same basic labour rights.”
Premier Kathleen Wynne ordered the provincial review in February. Labour Minister Kevin Flynn couldn’t comment about specific concerns with existing legislation because he needs to wait until the review is complete, said his press secretary, Craig MacBride.
“The Changing Workplaces Review is looking at what the government can do to ensure that Ministry of Labour legislation remains relevant in today’s changing economy,” MacBride said. “This includes considering the increase in casual, contract, and part-time work, as well the use of temporary foreign workers.”
- Economic sectors
Agriculture and horticulture workers
- Content types
Systemic/state violation of right/freedom
- Geographical focuses
Ontario, México, Guatemala, Jamaica, Other Caribbean States, and Regional relevance