Last Updated: Nov 6, 2014
policy brief: worker's rights
In 2008, the number of temporary migrant workers entering Canada surpassed the number of permanent residents for the first time in Canadian history. Over the past decade, the number of temporary foreign workers (TFWs) have tripled and continue to grow. In 2012, there were 338,221 temporary migrant workers; nearly half of whom were female. According to the recorded occupation skill levels, the proportion of women in “low-skilled” classifications (56%) or who enter as "dependents" (56%) is higher than their male counterparts.
At present, there are four temporary foreign worker “programs,” each with different terms and rights for workers:
In this brief we will look into the first three streams, which comprise the vast majority of migrant workers. Many of these programs began as temporary solutions for labour shortages. However, these programs have been running for decades and leave many workers vulnerable to exploitative wages and working conditions. Most migrant workers do not have access access to permanent residency or to essential services. Furthermore, despite paying income taxes and contributing to employment insurance, migrant workers are unable to access the benefits.
Of these programs, only the LCP provides a pathway to permanent residency. The program, however, is shrinking and retention rates are low. For example, only 50% of LCP who entered Canada between 2003-2005 successfully transitioned to permanent residence by 2007. While the program peaked in 2007 with over 12,000 participants, this number was halved by 2012. The temporary work programs also prevent migrant workers from establishing themselves legally in Canada, even after decades of working in the country. In April 2015, the “four-in, four-out” rule will come into effect, whereby TFWs will be required to leave Canada for 4 years after working 4 years cumulatively in the country. It is expected that hundreds of thousands of migrant workers will be impacted by the four-in, four-out rule, producing a new population of "illegalized" immigrants in Canada.
Workshop held on June 5, 2014
In the past year, the TFWP has received widespread media attention and public debate, culminating in the moratorium on all migrant workers in the food and accommodations sector in April 2014. This ban will affect 44,000 migrant workers who will not be able to renew their permits or switch jobs within the sector. Also, migrant workers awaiting their Labour Market Opinions (LMOs) and work permits will be banned, many of whom have already paid thousands of dollars in recruitment fees. Central to the debate were stories of fast-food restaurant workers who were laid off in favour of migrant workers, with little attention paid to the experiences of migrant workers themselves. Migrant workers have been criticized rather than the problems of the TFWP, such as exorbitant recruiter fees, deteriorating wages and working conditions, lack of access to services, health and safety protections, and pathways to permanent residency.
Migrant worker advocacy groups have called for the federal government to:
MWAC's core demands are:
→ Right to Landing Status: Migrant workers must not be tied to one employer, be required to live in their employer’s home, or be subject to further medical examination;
→ Right to Equal Access: Migrant workers can access social programs, including Employment Insurance, health care, settlement services, social services and Workers’ Compensation;#
→ Right to Fair Appeal: Process for migrant workers to appeal pre-removal order, and a stop to deportations until this process is in place;
→ Right to Employment Standards and Regulations: Migrant workers should be entitled to all protections and should not pay fees to work;
→ Full Regularization: Permanent status and rights for all non-residents;
In addition to these demands, policy recommendations include:
→ Access to Fair Wages: Increase the minimum wage to $14 (and adjusted annually to rate of infl ation) for all workers in Ontario, which would put full-time workers 10% above the poverty line;#.
→ Freedom to Organize: Migrant workers should have the right to collectively bargain.#
→ 1940s: Canada introduced international guest worker programs due to war-time shortages
→ 1966: The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) established between Canada and Jamaica (expanded to include Caribbean and Mexican migrant workers)
→ 1973: The Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) began
→ 1993: The Live-In Caregiver Program (LCP) was adopted
→ 2002: The Low-Skill TFWP Pilot Project began and continues today
 Citizenship and Immigration Canada. 2012. Facts and Figures 2012: Immigration Overview Permanent and Temporary Residents.
Date Updated: June 4, 2014