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Rights commission wants sweeping reforms
“We’re using these temporary permits for permanent job demands.” JILL HANLEY
The Quebec Human Rights Commission is calling on Quebec to end “systemic discrimination” against temporary foreign workers, including live-in nannies and farm labourers. When Mary came from the Philippines in 2006 to work as a nanny, she thought she had arrived in a land of opportunity.
But when she gave birth to a baby boy last April, she soon learned that Canada’s generous social safety net doesn’t extend to migrant workers like herself.
Despite being born in Montreal, Mary’s baby was not covered by quebec health insurance, so she had to pay medical costs out of her own pocket.
What’s more, Quebec immigration officials told Mary (not her real name) that as a consequence of going on maternity leave, she was no longer eligible to apply for permanent-resident status.
Advocates for migrant workers have long argued the rules covering live-in caregivers, farm labourers and other low-skilled temporary workers are discriminatory and unfair.
On Monday, the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission agreed.
In a 98-page opinion, the commission called for sweeping reforms to end systemic discrimination against migrant workers.
“The Charter of Rights and Liberties of Quebec applies to everybody that’s on the territory of Quebec. But there are exceptions in the law that treats them differently from other workers. All the laws that apply to workers should be the same for everybody,” commission president Gaétan Cousineau said in an interview.
Migrant workers are often tied to a single employer and forced to live in a situation that can encourage abuses such as being forced to work around the clock, Cousineau said.
They are excluded from social programs such as legal aid, welfare, education and French-language classes for immigrants. They are not covered by certain provisions of the Labour Code and cannot claim benefits for industrial accidents or occupational illnesses.
The commission said Quebec should allow migrant workers to switch employers without penalty and should not force them to live in.
It also called on the province to open its doors to permanent immigrants in those job categories, which few native-born Quebecers are interested in filling.
Quebec employs almost 7,000 seasonal farm workers, mostly from Guatemala, Mexico and the Caribbean, and about 400 live-in caregivers, mostly from the Philippines.
Jill Hanley, a professor at the Mcgill School of Social Work who has conducted extensive interviews with migrant workers, said the newcomers’ precarious status makes them vulnerable to abuse.
“I think it just puts them in a position that they don’t feel like they can say if they’re having problems,” she said.
Migrant farm workers often work 14-hour days with long periods between mealtimes and no water to drink out in the field, Hanley said. They live in crowded dormitories with 40 people to a bathroom and 20 people to a stove, she said.
“What I find problematic is that we’re using these temporary permits for permanent job demands. It gives the message to people, ‘You better watch yourself cause we can get rid of you when we want to,’ ” she said.
Fo Niemi, executive director of the Centre for Research-action on Race Relations, welcomed the report but said the commission should expedite the complaints process for migrant workers, which currently drags on for years.
CRARR has long complained that the government has turned a blind eye to abuses by agencies that recruit Filipino domestics in Asia. It has documented cases where women have been forced to sign leases for apartments shared by numerous domestic workers and often arrive in Canada only to discover that the promised job does not exist.
Yasmine Abdelfadel, an assistant to Immigration and Cultural Communities minister Kathleen Weil, said the minister wanted time to study the report before commenting.
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