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Leamington, Ont. – April 22, 2019 – UFCW Canada recently joined over forty migrant workers to meet with federal government officials and discuss the need for open work permits for vulnerable migrant workers who have suffered physical, sexual, psychological, or financial abuse from their employers while working in Canada.
The meeting was held at the UFCW Agriculture Workers Support Centre in Leamington, Ontario, and served as a follow-up to previous government consultations on reforming Canada’s immigration system and updating the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP).
At the March 31 meeting, migrant agricultural workers shared their views on the need for open work permits that would allow workers to escape abusive employers. Participants also explained why it is currently difficult for workers to file complaints about their employers, given that migrant and agricultural workers lack the right to join a union in much of Canada.
Based on the feedback provided at this latest consultation, UFCW Canada is encouraging the Government of Canada to adopt the following recommendations in order to strengthen labour rights and protections for migrant workers enrolled in the TFWP and Seasonal Agricultural Workers’ Program (SAWP):
- The Open Work Permit for Vulnerable Migrant Workers should run at least 2 years to fully protect the vulnerable worker, as finding a new employer and moving to a new city or province will take time.
- A UFCW Canada representative should accompany and assist the vulnerable worker throughout the process, as migrant workers often do not speak English, and often have difficulties navigating the system.
- The federal government should facilitate the hiring process of vulnerable workers and provide job opportunities from a job bank.
- The Open Work Permit for Vulnerable Migrant Workers should be available to all migrant workers who have come under the SAWP/TFWP and who hold a current or expired work permit.
- Migrant workers benefiting from the Open Work Permit for Vulnerable Migrant Workers should receive access to health care services, without having to wait to completeanewwaitingperiodtoobtain a health card. They should also have access to Employment Insurance (EI) protections, worker’s compensation, psychological support, andallsocialservices.
- In case of refusal, migrant workers should have a transparent, impartial process of appeal available to all workers before any decision to repatriate is made, including appointment of a representative from UFCW Canada to fully participate in this appeal process with, or on behalf, of the worker involved.
- The government should work closely with UFCW Canada in order to advocate and improve the wellbeing of migrant workers across the country.
- Employers who have contacted the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) or the police to threaten a migrant worker should be banned from participating in the SAWP or TFWP.
“Implementing these recommendations would help mitigate migrant workers’ fear of retribution and repatriation to their home countries and would give them a vehicle to exercise their labour rights while working in Canada,” says Paul Meinema, National President of UFCW Canada. “That is why we are calling on the government to act on this feedback as it explores open work permits for vulnerable migrant workers,” the UFCW leader adds.
As Canada’s leading advocate for food workers, UFCW Canada works closely with the Agriculture Workers Alliance (AWA) in operating a national, on-the-ground support network of volunteers and staff who offer information, training, and support services to migrant, temporary foreign, and seasonal agricultural workers across the country. To learn more about these efforts, click here.