Good Enough to Work, Good Enough to Stay
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The Canadian government has been using the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP) as an extreme form of flexible labour where migrant workers are not offered any paths to permanent residency. For several years, the program has been sought to reproduce precariousness while turning a blind eye to the mistreatment of such workers. Workers admitted under this program are tied to their employer as they depend on them for a work permit, employment, housing, and a salary (Strauss & McGrath, 2017, p. 203). Nevertheless, this creates an unequal relationship and heightens labour control among employers (ibid). As a result, migrant workers resist voicing their injustices as they fear deportation and losing employment. Although Canada greatly depends on the labour of migrant workers, this capitalist system creates a cycle of exploitation and abuse where migrant workers lack power, equality and citizenship.
In the last decade, the number of temporary foreign workers entering Canada has exceeded the number of permanent residents entering the country (Strauss & McGrath, 2017, p. 203). Through the TFWP, the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) and the Low-Skill Pilot Project, migrant workers arrive in Canada to support short-term labour demands in an environment where canadian citizens and permanent residents abstain from working in those sectors (Hennebry, 2012, p. 1). However, these workers become permanently temporary as they return to Canada to work year after year (ibid). They face structural barriers through the immigration system which characterizes these migrant workers as outsiders. Unlike many Canadian citizens, migrant workers find themselves in jobs that are dirty, dangerous, difficult, and demeaning (Basok et al., 2013, p. 1395). As migrant farmworkers are continuously exposed to dangerous pesticides without proper personal protective equipment or training, they are vulnerable and face barriers to getting help or treatment when they become ill (Hennebry, 2012, p. 18).
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant reduction in the number of migrant workers arriving in Canada this year. On a yearly basis roughly 60,000 migrant workers plant and harvest fresh fruits and vegetables for Canadian citizens and foreign export (Hjalmarson, The Conversation, 2020). However, many of these workers have not been able to return to Canada for the 2020 season due to border closures, flight cancellation and various administrative delays (ibid). For those workers who were able to make it across the borders and into Canada, like many other residents of Canada, their working engagement has also been drastically affected due to government restrictions for employers during the COVID-19 crisis. Many of these workers are unable to return to their home country, and are now suffering in Canada. This is oppression of farmworkers, without benefits to hold them up financially till the country’s economy is back to its feet. The government has witnessed the role of the agricultural sector during the COVID-19 pandemic and listed agriculture under the essential services yet employers of these workers did not increase their salaries.Companies, businesses including farmers have had to close operations as a preventative measure for the spread of COVID-19 and this measure has had great financial impact on all workers including migrant workers.
The federal government in an effort to provide some meaningful and financial support for workers during this difficult time where many have either lost their jobs or faced a reduction of hours, has created and implemented the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). However, the CERB does not include recently migrated workers due to the fact that they have not made a minimum of $5,000 in the last tax year, or undocumented workers who’s social insurance is expired and unable to renew it due to the current lockdown state of the country. Aside from (CERB), there are other supports from the provincial government that migrant and unducmented workers are also not entitled to. For example a boost on GST/HST and CCB due to above mentioned hindrances. Undocumented and migrant workers with dependents find it difficult to obtain benefits for their child/children just because they are not yet citizens, hence can not take part In all benefits for their offspring. This situation has demonstrated the clear disparity between migrant and immigrant workers although their continuous contribution to the economy provides avenues for economic sustenance.
It is against this background that we are calling on the federal and provincial government to extend the CERB and other befitting benefits to migrant and undocumented workers. By doing so, workers will be able to support themselves and their families both here and abroad financially. Moreover, Canada is seen by outsiders abroad as a welcoming, multicultural, and systemic racism free country, and it is only fair that they begin to extend permanent residency, and citizenship to migrants who have been returning to work each season for several years. By creating a path to permanent status, migrant workers will be able to fully integrate themselves within Canadian society. More importantly, they will be able to voice their injustices and mistreatment without fear of being deported and losing their jobs. During this pandemic, Canada must also provide proper personal protective equipment and additional compensation to those who are deemed “essential” and are working on the frontlines regardless of their citizenship status.
We urge Justin Trudeau (PM), along with the federal and provincial government to:
- Provide a path to permanent residency to all migrant workers who arrive to Canada through the TFWP
- Provide proper personal protective equipment and training to migrant workers who continue to work during this pandemic
- Create mandatory legislation for housing units to be checked on a regular basis in order to meet federal and provincial standards enabling workers to safely socially distance
- Extend the CERB to undocumented and migrant workers who may lack or be unable to receive a social insurance number (SIN)
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