Migrant workers and advocates are angered that the 2017 Federal Budget failed to deliver promised details on reforms to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). The Liberals delayed their response to a Parliamentary Committee review of the TFWP in January by promising that details would be announced in the Budget. But the Budget offers only a handful of paragraphs that ignore migrant workers’ critical demands for open work permits, permanent residency and robust rights enforcement. Instead, the Budget re-announces policy positions that were originally announced in December or in the Liberals’ 2015 election platform.
“The Liberals are continuing to delay while migrant workers
continue to face exploitation,” says Sharmeen Khan, Coordinator of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.
“The Budget acknowledges that migrant workers need protection for
their rights to decent work and that migrant workers need access to permanent residency. But the Budget doesn’t actually deliver any policy response to address these long-standing demands or dedicate resources to meaningful proactive rights enforcement,” says Khan. “Migrant workers raised many important concerns in the TFWP review and the Liberals need to address them in a real way that delivers real change.”
Under the new budget, workers in the Seasonal Agricultural Worker
Program and the Caregiver and Temporary Foreign Worker Programs will continue to have their work permits tied to one employer. Furthermore, the exemption to“caps” in low-wage seasonal industries means further exploitation and precarity for migrant workers in sectors such as fisheries where an unlimited number of migrant workers are only hired for 6 months on a non-renewable permit.
The Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development(HUMA) recommended in its 2016 review of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program that the government develop open work permits and pathways to permanent residency for temporary foreign workers. Yet despite these clear recommendations, the Liberal government has refused to overhaul this deeply unjust and exploitative condition on Canada’s most marginalized workforce. While the government claims to continue investigating ways to developing pathways to permanent residency, no details or resources were given in the budget regarding how this work would be done.
“The vulnerability and violence we experience is a result of tied work permits,”says Gabriel Alahuda, a member of Justice for Migrant Workers. “I should be able to complain about my employer, or if needed leave and find other work without the fear of deportation. Without open work permits and permanent status, we are forced to stay in abusive working conditions.”
The Canadian government had an opportunity to rectify decades of
abuse and mistreatment by ensuring that migrant workers have the same labour rights afforded to other workers. However, the failure of the government to protect this workforce reveals that the government’s priority is to maintain an exploitative and racist policy that provides a cheap, exploitable workforce for employers and disproportionately exploit workers of colour and women.
If the government is committed to building a “better future for
temporary foreign workers” they must meet with migrant workers to develop direct paths to permanent residency, eliminate work permits tied to one employer and develop stronger enforcement to protect migrant workers from abuse. But so far, migrant workers and advocates have been waiting for over a year with no real commitment from the current Liberal government to better the lives and working conditions for migrant workers.