Chris Ramsaroop and Adrian A. Smith
- Newspaper title
The Toronto Star
- Full text
Politicians are responding to demands to protect Canadian jobs from “foreign workers.” Public pressure has led the federal government to ban the restaurant industry from using the program, and opposition parties and labour unions are calling for the moratorium to be extended to the entire Temporary Foreign Worker program. The minister in charge, Jason Kenney, is expected to deliver key changes to the program any day.
We believe the moratorium placed on the use of migrant workers in the restaurant industry is a knee-jerk reaction, which fails to address the racist foundations of the temporary labour migration regime. And we oppose the extension of the moratorium to all migrant workers for the same reasons.
Under Canada’s regime of temporary labour migration, migrant workers experience working and living conditions that differ dramatically from those of Canadian citizens. Upon arrival, migrant workers face tight constraints on their ability to earn a decent living, to exercise what modest labour rights they have and to claim basic entitlements.
Their status in the country rests on maintaining a collegial relationship with a specific employer. In practice, this means that, by virtue of the employer-driven nature of the program, workers endure the persistent threat of deportation. All of this occurs with no reasonable prospects of permanent settlement for most migrant workers. And this is to say nothing about the fact that migrant workers are dislodged from their families and communities for months and years on end, which produces reverberating consequences for family members and others left behind.
In the past year, the Star has reported on numerous injustices inherent in the Temporary Foreign Worker program — from a recent court decision that denied health coverage to migrant workers injured in a workplace accident, to massive recruitment fees these workers are asked to pay, to a mass DNA sweep that racially profiled over 100 Caribbean agriculture workers, to Leamington’s attempted introduction of bylaws to prevent migrants from congregating in the downtown core, to the ongoing refusal to grant inquests into workplace deaths of migrant workers. To these cases Minister Kenney offered only inadequate, piecemeal responses that failed to address the underlying inhumanity of the policy.
We believe the temporary labour migration program is deeply flawed; but so too are the responses of the federal government and most critics. The focus of our consternation now should be on how foreign workers are hyper-exploited in labour markets in Canada, not on closing our borders; on how migration law and policy enforces divisions between the migrant “other” and Canadian workers, not on narrow and insular claims about the theft of Canadian jobs. To speak of migrant workers merely as inputs that are brought in to fill a labour shortage denies them their fundamental humanity.
What is needed right now is not policy-by-panic.
We would like to propose the following steps. First, the federal and provincial governments must ensure that migrant workers can exert their rights at work. This means: open work permits, TFW-specific anti-reprisal protections, equal access to social entitlements and labour protections for all workers.
Once both the provinces and the feds have ensured equal protections, we must move toward full immigration status for migrant workers already in Canada and those who continue to arrive here as we undertake trenchant immigration reform.
Finally, we need permanent immigration status for all migrants coming into Canada, including workers in low-skilled occupations and the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program. This must include meaningful family reunification.
It is not a historical accident that workers from the global South, regions of the world that have long suffered cruel treatment from rich and powerful countries, face systemic discrimination through a program that imposes temporary status. Temporary foreign worker programs emerged out of the legacy of slavery and indentureship and have a long history of thrusting workers into hyper-exploitative working conditions.
Canada, through its mining corporations, free trade agreements and military interventions has too often been a party to global economic inequality. This is again true when we are complicit in pushing people into perpetual circuits of migration. We therefore owe an obligation both to ending that process and to dealing with its consequences. And that means confronting the racism pervasive not only in these programs, but also in our responses that pit migrant workers against unemployed citizens. It’s time our governments guaranteed decent work for all.
Chris Ramsaroop is a member of Justicia For Migrant Workers and the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change. Adrian A. Smith is assistant professor at Carleton University.
- Economic sectors
General relevance - all sectors
- Content types
Policy analysis and Current Policy
- Target groups
- Geographical focuses
Federal and National relevance
- Spheres of activity