Migrant workers get little protection from workplace abuse

July 1, 2015

By CBC News |

Across most of Canada, temporary foreign workers fall through the cracks in monitoring and enforcing of employment standards.

They’re admitted under a federal program, but the provinces that monitor labour standards don’t know where to find them. They should have the same rights as Canadian workers, but if they complain, their employer can get rid of the problem by simply sending them home.

In Ontario, a horrific sexual abuse case is highlighting problems with the structure of the foreign worker program. A Mexican worker was awarded $150,000 by a human rights tribunal after being forced to perform sex acts by an employer under threat of being sent home.

The legal aid workers, union activists and experts who helped her in her fight for justice point to the difficulty of uncovering this kind of abuse, when workers are isolated by language and ignorant of their own rights.

“The reason this case is an exception is that there was an actual case that went forward. Many workers don’t go forward. They’re careful. They don’t want to be sent back,” says Chris Ramsaroop, an activist who works extensively with TFWs through Justicia.

The employer has sole discretion to remove their right to work – and there is no one to complain to about an unjust firing, because workers are sent home quickly.

Taking Canadian jobs?

When the temporary foreign worker program has been in the news, the usual complaint is that it is taking jobs from Canadians.

But among temporary workers, there are a litany of unaddressed complaints – unpaid wages, unsafe conditions, too few hours of work, racial discrimination and poor living conditions.

Ramsaroop argues the revamp of the TFW program put in place earlier this year actually made the ability to uncover abuse worse.

“If that happened today, those workers would have four years to pursue the case, but they wouldn’t be able to work during those four years…. Then, they would have to go back to their home country and they wouldn’t be able to come back.”

The new rules limit the time TFWs can spend in Canada to two years, making it less likely that inspectors would uncover any abuses.

It’s been difficult to direct attention away from the who-stole-the-jobs argument to the issue of whether people are being treated properly when they’re here.

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