NEW J4MW ARTICLE:
for Migrant Workers:
What moves you in times of crisis?
Political crisis moves politicians.
For the thoughtful, political calamities provide an opportunity to reflect on the root causes that led to that predicament and acting in a manner that can deal with those factors.
For other politicians, political crisis simply triggers a less noble self preservation instinct. The tactics that accompany this approach are typically: to deflect, to misrepresent and/or to duck and cover till things settle down and most importantly -- stay the course.
Earlier this year, it was revealed Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) is out of control with an unprecedented number of work permits being issued to employers like Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) and HD Mining Ltd.
RBC had been given permission to temporarily hire IT workers from abroad. They were being trained by the same staff they would eventually displace via the practice of off-shoring. The HD mining company had received approval for hundreds of temporary work permits, despite abundant evidence of unemployed workers with mining skills readily available within Canada.
In addition, HD Mining appeared to have links to an overseas recruiting firm that claimed fluency in Mandarin was a job requirement to work in northern B.C.
Wages offered to temporary migrant workers via this recruiting firm were dramatically lower than provincial standards. Despite these obvious flaws, the Conservatives' TFWP program approved work permits for both employers.
Public outrage was tremendous -- a very real political crisis was at hand.
The Conservatives reaction was to deflect and misrepresent in order to contain damage -- but ultimately to stay the course.
At the time, a repetitive talking point during these crises was to say their government was committed to Canadians getting "first crack at jobs." No serious reflection has ever taken place as to their role in issuing nearly 340,000 temporary work permits in 2012 -- a tripling in size over the last decade.
Deflection tactics included suggesting that some employers may be abusing the program (ya think?) and rushing to announce a series of cosmetic changes to the program followed by the promotion of a poorly conceived Canada Jobs Grant (CJG) initiative.
The CJG design was to claw back monies previously dedicated to the provinces/territories to help train vulnerable members of the workforce (women, aboriginal and racialized workers) while gifting employers with yet another subsidy for training. However, the ideas is so poorly conceived and bereft of support, it is unlikely to survive.
The tactic of announcing new and cosmetic rules for the TFWP and a dubious training initiative nonetheless served to deflect attention from the super-sized growth of their temporary migration scheme, which now out-paces the number of permanent immigrants we welcome to the economy.
Duck and Cover
Now in hopes the public attention is no longer as focused on the folly of the TFWP, Minister Jason Kenny recently revealed his government is prepared to resurrect the fast track window -- known as the Accelerated Labour Market Opinion initiative (ALMO) -- that allowed employers and labour brokers to apply for temporary work permits more quickly.
It was worth recalling that at the end of April 2013, Kenney had announced he was closing that loophole which his government created the year before. The hope was that such changes, including plans for warranting less search and seizure investigatory powers of employers, would mollify the critics. No matter, that investigation of 340,000 some work permits is well beyond the capacity of a gutted public service.
Now Minister Kenney is floating the idea that their fast track spigot, to serve employers eager to access vulnerable workers, may be soon be re-opened.
Thousands of employers, across Canada from the fast food, construction, landscaping, mining and hotel sectors to name just a few, have successfully used this pipeline to secure temporary work permits.
The ALMO process also had the added bonus of permitting employers to negotiate 15 per cent less in wages for both the migrant worker and their Canadian or permanent resident counterparts in the high skilled job categories and five per cent less for low or semi-skilled jobs.
Back in April, Kenney announced his government was ending the pay less element of the ALMO initiative, arguing that very few employers were using it. He said, "less than five per cent of employers actually used up the flexibility that they were given to pay less than the median average."
Yet in October 2013, Kenney sang a new refrain. Media reports quote him as saying, "we suddenly saw a large and growing number of food service supervisors come in under the exemption to work in fast food outlets in Western Canada."
Misrepresenting the reality of the TFWP is also common sport for this government.
At the height of public outrage over the cases of RBC and HD Mines, Minister Kenney held a press conference claiming his government would put in place new rules to crack down on abuses of the TFWP by employers. Kenney implied these new measures would clamp down on the growth of the program, and allow Canadians to get that "first crack" at available jobs.
Instead the Conservatives have actually allowed a further ramping up of admissions of temporary foreign workers through the first half of this year. According to estimates from Citizenship and Immigration Canada the number of temporary foreign workers admitted from January to June rose nearly five per cent compared to the same period in 2012 and nearly 20 per cent over 2011.
The growth of this program has rested on the persistent, but unproven, claim that labour shortages are rampant and growing across the country. But a 52 page report released, in late October of this year, by the TD Bank’s Deputy Chief economist Derek Burleton and three other bank economists, debunks what its author’s call the myth of widespread skills mismatches in Canada and of a looming labour shortage as the workforce ages.
The authors note whatever skills shortages do exist are isolated and likely no greater than a decade ago.
Deflect and misrepresentation strategies run into trouble when they collide headlong into contradictory studies or the facts. Kenney has consistently tried to suggest that his government program is really filling shortages in high skilled sectors where he doggedly argues there are shortages, despite the findings of the TD Bank.
The Minister has also been adamant his government is not giving employers access to work permits for jobs in the low wage and vulnerable sectors. In April he said, his government granted just "30,000 out of 200,000 work permits for low skilled occupations."
To be blunt, the Minister is dead wrong. Publicly available data reveals that employers were given access to 55,000 work permits for low or semi-skilled jobs. In addition there were another 78,500 temporary work permits granted for occupations not stated, which are likely for lower skilled and vulnerable jobs.
Not only is it troubling that employers are able to secure work permits for unknown jobs, but entries in this odd category of "level not stated" has increased 250 per cent after 2003, and now amounts to the largest single skill level of migrant workers by far, twice as many as the next largest skill level.
Put another way, more than a third (37 per cent) of all migrant workers entering in 2012 were slotted into the 'level not stated' category.
Migrant workers in these occupational categories are often subject to lower wages and higher likelihood of exploitation and abuse. Their vulnerability is linked to their dependence upon their employers to maintain their legal status.
Canadians should carefully consider how politicians handle political crisis. Do they reflect on the root causes carefully, accept their own potential culpability and commit to making fundamental reforms?
Or do they deflect, misrepresent and shamelessly try to stay the course.
Karl is the National Director of the Human Rights/Anti-Racism department with the Canadian Labour Congress.
Migrant workers in Canada exploited because of restricted mobility: new report
Aug 9, 2013
A new report throws a spotlight on Canada’s growing army of "unfree" migrant workers.
Temporary foreign workers are tied to specific employers, and that’s the reason why many of them are cheated and abused, according to a report titled Access to Justice for Migrant Workers in B.C.
"The idea of ‘unfree’ workers, which perpetuates precariousness, has been linked to the erosion of labor standards in the workforce and some academics have opined that it has caused the clustering of migrant workers in particular industries where enforcement of employment standards is a particular problem," states the report prepared by the West Coast Domestic Workers’ Association.
The Vancouver-based organization will present its report in a forum on Saturday (August 10) at the SFU Harbour Centre in downtown Vancouver. The event starts at 1 p.m.
The WCDWA has traditionally helped workers who enter Canada through the Live-in Caregiver Program. It notes that in recent years it has seen a sharp increase in requests for assistance from other temporary foreign workers, including seasonal farm labourers and others employed in restaurants and hotels.
The WCDWA report notes that prior to the 1960s, migrant labourers were admitted to Canada as permanent residents. This changed in later years, as the country followed the global trend of importing temporary foreign workers.
Citing federal government data, the study mentions that more than 20,000 foreign workers came to B.C. in 2002. By 2006, the number rose to 31,013, and it increased to 46,378 in 2011.
Initial figures from Citizenship and Immigration Canada indicate that in 2012, the arrivals rose to 49,488 in B.C. out of a nationwide total of 218,516.
This makes B.C. the second-largest host of temporary workers after Ontario, the WCDWA report notes, with Alberta in third place.
Unlike citizens and permanent residents, temporary foreign workers cannot leave and change employers at will. If they wish to do so, they must go through a difficult process of securing a new work permit.
"The supply of an ever-renewable workforce that has little ability to bargain for better standards tampers down wages and work conditions by essentially creating a disincentive for employers to invest in their workers and improve compensation and conditions," the study notes.
It points out that employment standards provided by legislation are no guarantee that temporary foreign workers are properly protected. The study states the "incentive for governments to strictly enforce employment standards is reduced when the workforce is predominantly temporary and migrant, and in some cases the reduction in standards can be deliberate".
The WCDWA report makes several recommendations to remedy inequities it says are inherent in Canada’s temporary foreign worker program.
One is to allow migrant workers to "freely circulate" in the labour market. This means they would have to be issued open work permits.
"Short of providing all workers with open work permits, freedom of association could be facilitated by issuing sector-specific, instead of employer-specific, work permits," the WCDWA also recommends.
Its report underscores that migrant workers remain vulnerable to exploitation "as long as their legal status in Canada is tied to a specific employer".
"These conditions create drastic power imbalances between employer and employee," the report states. "Because workers’ ability to support themselves is tied to one employer, many workers are unwilling to leave bad working conditions because of the difficulty of securing a new work permit."
We did it! One episode of Border Security down!
"The divergence between the goals of a government agency and a TV production company calls into serious question the ethics of such a collaboration. "
"Force Four Entertainment should not be granted express government permission to reap economic benefits from the human suffering and family breakup that are very often caused by immigration detention and deportation."
Open Letter to The Honourable Vic Toews:
Border agency broke law with reality TV self-promotion, says BC Civil Liberties Association
Rights watchdog files federal privacy complaint as diverse social justice, labour and migrant groups come together to oppose exploitation of vulnerable people for entertainment.
J4MW BC Statement in Response to "Reality TV Raids" Targeting Migrant Workers in Vancouver
In response to the recent raids conducted in Vancouver by the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) in conjunction with a reality TV show called "Border Security: Canada's Front Line" J4MW BC would like to express our outrage and disgust.
The lives, well being, and basic human rights to due process, dignity and privacy, of workers of color and their families are at stake when faced by CBSA raids. To trivialize this and turn it into mediocre entertainment pandering to the racist right wing of the country is plain obscene. Both the CBSA and the corporate entity behind the show, Force Four Entertainment, are engaging in a despicable partnership for propaganda purposes that should be illegal and is morally repugnant.
CBSA and the show's producers have crossed a line here. We join in solidarity will all migrant and immigrant workers, and workers of color - documented or not, permanent or temporary - and with their families and allies in Canada in calling for the cancellation of this show, and for an end to CBSA workplace raids and all harassment, persecution, and scapegoating of migrant workers.
Update: March 16
It has been revealed that the Conservative government, specifically Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and the Prime Minister's Office, approved of the Reality TV raids.
This confirms the propagandistic nature of the partnership between CBSA and the show, and reinforces the need to expose it to the public and have the show cancelled and the raids ended.
It further evidences the anti-migrant, racist agenda of Stephen Harper's government and the racist right wing faction that backs it. It falls on heels of the recent announcement that the federal government will officially steal from temporary migrant workers by continuing to deduct EI contributions from their pay while making them ineligible to receive any benefits (see below).
We reaffirm our call for solidarity with migrant workers and their families, and for an end to their targeting, scapegoating and harassment by the Conservative government and its enforcement agencies.
Sign this petition calling for the cancellation of the show:
ATTN: ALL NEWS EDITORS
Migrant rights activists denounce Canada’s Federal Government for stripping away Employment Insurance benefit for migrant workers
December 10, 2012
(Toronto) Migrant worker advocates are angered and shocked to learn that the Federal Government is once again attacking one of Canada’s most vulnerable populations.
Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Diane Finley announced on December 6th the elimination of Employment Insurance (EI) special benefits (parental, maternal and compassionate benefits) for migrant workers employed under Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker program. The minister failed to report that these workers will continue to pay into this social protection fund, as they have been doing so since 1966, yet now will no longer be able to collect these benefits.
Junior Sylvester a twelve year veteran of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program says “The elimination of these special benefits violates the nature of the Employment Insurance act that was put into place to protect our families and our children from falling into poverty".
“For over forty years migrant workers have been subsidizing Canada’s EI fund yet have been ‘ineligible’ to receive full benefits, and now they are being completely stripped away from the few special benefits they were able to access. This is completely unjust and outrageous” says Justicia for Migrant Workers’ organizer Adriana Paz Ramirez. Given this situation, Paz Ramirez states that “the fight right now should be to restore this benefit and to fully include migrant workers into social protection programs rather than eliminating access and reinforcing a system that perpetuates exclusion and marginalization of migrant workers”.
Purewal blueberry farm didn't report injured worker's accident
One of North America's largest blueberry farms is being accused of failing to report a serious injury.
An elderly Indo-Canadian farmworker said his knee was mangled and he ingested pesticides in an accident at the Purewal Blueberry Farms Ltd. blueberry field in Pitt Meadows.
Gurdev Khakh, 68, said he was hit by a pesticide trailer that tipped over onto him in April.
Speaking in Punjabi, Khakh told CBC News that the trailer tipped over onto to him as he was walking beside it.
Gurdev Khakh, 68, said he was hit by a pesticide trailer that tipped over in a Purewal Blueberry Farms field in April. (CBC)
He said he shouted for help: "I'm dying, I'm dying."
Khakh's leg was twisted back, his knee was dislocated, and his shoulder was crushed. He said that as the pesticides spilled onto him, he unintentionally ingested them.
"Who knows how dangerous it was. It made my stomach queasy," he said.
Khahk said he was taken by a supervisor to the security office, but an ambulance wasn't called for two hours. Khahk also said his employer failed to report the accident to WorkSafeBC, as required by law.
Khakh spent a month in hospital and now uses a walker to get around. He has now filed a claim for compensation.
History: Purewal workplace safety violations:
1999: Eight violations cited after a worker died. The farm promised to report future safety violations.
2002: WorkSafeBC found nine violations at the farm.
2008: A worker was injured but the farm failed to investigate, resulting in two more violations
2012: WorkSafeBC found another violation after a worker was injured by a co-worker.
Charan Gill, founding president of the Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society, said his organization is helping Khakh with the claim.
"Hopefully, WorkSafe will investigate and get at the truth. I think its a true story about a worker who is suffering, who is so dependent he has no money and is still living at their cabins."
After being contacted by CBC, Gary Purewal said the farm didn't see a need to report the accident to WorkSafeBC.
[J4MW note: regardless of Purewal's excuse, fact is the company is obligated by law to report workplace accidents, and in this case they are clearly breaking the law]
He said that Khakh has been collecting his full pay, plus an extra $5,000 while recovering from his injuries.
Khakh told CBC News that he has been getting nothing.
In 2007 J4MW visited Purewal farms and found shocking housing conditions for South Asian and Mexican workers. At the time Purewal was removed from the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program after inspectors discovered violations of housing standards. J4MW wrote a report on housing conditions for migrant workers that documented the situation at Purewal:
Purewal Blueberry Farms, Pitt Meadows BC, 2005:
Housing type: multi bedroom converted house on farm property, as well as temporary housing trailers.
Number of Workers housed: approximately 50
Concerns: unheated trailers, outside open air cooking facilities, enough hot water for only 2 people to have a shower at a time, up to 6 workers in bunks per bedroom, only 1 washing machine, no working clothes dryer (clothes had to be hung up to dry on bunk beds or outside due to lack of space), garbage and wrecked cars dumped around house, one working bathroom for the entire house and trailers, un-maintained and unusable portable bathrooms outside, and extremely run down and dingy conditions in general.
Results: workers organized a work stoppage, and the story was exposed in the local and national media. Most workers returned to Mexico before the end of their work term and a small number remained behind until the end of their contract.
Aquilini fine appeal rejected
By Andrea Woo, Vancouver Sun
WorkSafeBC's review division has rejected an appeal by the Aquilini family over fines levied last year.
Francesco, Roberto and Elisa Aquilini, operating as Geri Partner-ship-Golden Eagle Ranch, were fined $125,402 for safety violations at their berry operation at 15351 Aquilini Ave. in Pitt Meadows.
An inspection in 2010, found vehicles used to transport workers were not "designed, maintained and operated in a safe manner" and were not operated by a properly licensed driver, said a WorkSafeBC inspection report.
Inspections on Sept. 3 and 7, 2010, found the Aquilinis failed to provide workers with "information, instruction, training and supervision necessary to ensure the health and safety of those workers in carrying out their work and to ensure the health and safety of others at the workplace," according to the report.
The two penalties, each for $62,701, were determined based on the payroll and nature of the violations. They can appeal the review division decision, said Donna Freeman of WorkSafeBC.
"The final level of appeal is WCAT - the Workers' Compensation Appeal Tribunal," she said.
In 2006, J4MW BC visited Golden Eagle farms and reported on abuses committed by managers against Mexican farm workers. It would seem that 6 years later Golden Eagle is still not treating their workers right. It is particularly shamefull given that the Aquilini's are some of the wealthiest people in BC, and with a high public profile that comes from owning the Canucks.
On December 18th, 2011, International Migrants Day, No One Is Illegal Vancouver Coast Salish Territories, Justicia for Migrant Workers, and Philippine Women Centre organized a flash mob.
Forty of our friends and allies sung '12 Days of Deportation Minister Kenney' to our reworked lyrics in shopping malls and streets and public transit throughout the evening.
* Watch and circulate the video (including lyrics):
* View photos:
Under Kenney, Harper, and the Conservatives:
So who are all the migrants coming into Canada?
The number of temporary foreign workers is up 30%. Temporary workers have no rights of residency and are recruited primarily as temporary indentured labour for big business. Kenney’s model is one of Permanent Impermanence. We cannot allow divisive stereotypes of migrants ‘stealing our jobs and resources’ to let the Harper government off the hook for putting profit over the people and the planet. On International Migrants Day, stand with us for migrant dignity and human rights and justice for all.
Guest workers pressured by Mexican officials to decertify unions, says UFCW.
The office of the consulate general for Mexico in Vancouver has been involved in union busting activity among Mexican workers brought to B.C. under federal temporary worker programs, charge lawyers acting for the United Food and Commercial Workers union.
Mexican labour officials, it is alleged, have "choreographed" attempts to de-certify union contracts at B.C. farms. The allegations are contained in complaints filed with the B.C. Labour Relations Board on April 19 and 28.
According to documents filed with the board, the government of Mexico, through its Ministry of Labour, violated sections 6(1) and 9 of the provincial labour relations code when it instructed Honorio Corona Martinez, a worker enrolled in the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program ( SAWP) and employed in Canada by Floralia Plant Growers Limited of Abbotsford, to initiate a union decertification campaign at Floralia, where the UFCW currently represents workers under an agreement adopted in September of 2009.
April 29, 2011
Supreme Court: farm workers have no right to unionize
Housing Conditions for Temporary Migrant Agricultural Workers in B.C.
April 7, 2006
This letter of complaints was written by the Mexican agricultural workers from the Golden Eagle Group farm in Pitt Meadows, BC, in response to the fact that a series of grave concerns have not been addressed by their employer nor by Mexican consular authorities. This in spite of repeated attempts by the workers to find a solution to their legitimate demands for:
1. Bathrooms, drinking water and a place were they can find cover from the rain while they eat during working days in the fields.
2. More working hours. Currently the workers are being given insufficient working hours that rarely cover the minimum living expenses in Canada, and leave little or nothing to send back to their families in Mexico, which is the main reason why the workers come here in the first place.
3. Fair and respectful treatment by the supervisors and employers.
4. A response to their demands for medical attention without having to pay for it as they are not covered by B.C.'s Medical Services Plan but by RBC Insurance that is limited and insufficient.
5. Compliance with their written work contract which says that they were to work in a greenhouse and not in outdoor blueberry and cranberry farms.
The Mexican workers are employed under Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) negotiated between the governments of Canada and Mexico. Each worker has a contract and is in Canada on a temporary working visa. The migrant Mexican workers are compelled to come to work in Canada as a result of the devastating impact of economic agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on the Mexican countryside. Upon arrival in Canada the workers often find themselves in precarious working, living and health situations and routinely face abuse and mistreatment from their employers, who appear to almost completely forget to respect the workers' fundamental labour, economic and human rights such the access to healthcare. The workers' complaints are rarely heard or addressed by either their employers or the Mexican consulate.
The situation exposed in this letter by the workers of Golden Eagle farms is not limited to this particular group of workers but can be considered part of a generalized condition of lack of justice, dignity and respect for the temporary agricultural workers that toil in the majority of Canadian farms, even when those workers come through programs negotiated between both governments to satisfy a need for labour in the agricultural sector. - J4MW BC
J4MW and the BC Federation of Labour held a press conference on May 24, 2006 to denounce the arbitrary termination of Marcos Baac. From left: NDP MLA and Labour Critic Chuck Puchmayr, BC Fed President Jim Sinclair, Marcos Baac, and Pablo Irriberne from the law firm Suleman and Co.
VANCOUVER - May 19, 2006) - Marcos Baac, a Mexican migrant farm worker who was employed by Golden Eagle Farms in Pitt Meadows through a contract under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program, received notice on May 9th that he would be sent back to Mexico immediately.
Baac believes that this forced repatriation is a reprisal for being vocal in raising concerns about the farm’s poor working and living conditions. In April 2006, after failed attempts to bring their concerns directly to the employer and the Mexican consulate, Baac, along with 31 other workers at the farm, wrote a public letter outlining several workplace and living condition grievances.
March 22, 2006
(Vancouver) - Migrant farm worker advocates are accusing the BC Liberals of violating Canada's Health care act by denying migrant farm workers access to health care in BC. Justicia for Migrant Workers, an advocacy group fighting for the rights of migrant farm workers in BC is demanding that migrant farm workers from Mexico be immediately included under the province's MSP health insurance scheme, so that they can be given basic health coverage. Mexican workers have already started to come back to BC for the third year in a row, and up to a couple thousand workers are expected this year throughout BC...
Updated Dec 33, 2013