Empowering migrant workers

Community News & Features Oct 25, 2019 at 3:25 pm
Migrants Resource  Centre Canada (MRCC)  staff at their new office at  2482 Dufferin St. (Photos: Y. Cabana)

Migrants Resource Centre Canada (MRCC) staff at their new office at 2482 Dufferin St.
(Photos: Y. Cabana)

By Ysh Cabana

The Philippine Reporter

More than a dozen migrants and newcomers are taking their weekends off for a series of know-your-rights workshops.

IMPACT, or Immigrants and Migrants Participating for Collective Transformation, is a a 7-month long project to build the organizational capacity of Migrants Resource Centre Canada (MRCC).

Its first session tackled federal immigration policies and provincial labor laws to help educate migrant workers of their rights featuring speakers Sol Pajadura, Chairperson of Migrante Canada, and Alex Banaag, National Representative of United Food and Commercial Workers.

Ang buong akala namin wala kaming karapatan.  Natatakot kami lagi na ma-fire, mawalan ng trabaho at mapauwi ng Pilipinas,” said Marisol Bobadilla, one of the workshop participants. “Naintindihan ko na na bilang worker, may karapatan akong magsalita…na may karapatan ako na ipaglaban kung ano yung rights ko.

(“We didn’t think we had rights. We were always scared to lose our jobs and that we had to go back to the Philippines. Now I understand, that as a worker, I have the right to speak up and fight for those rights.”)

Bobadilla is one of the thousands of seasonal migrant workers who moved to Canada from the Philippines hoping for a job that could earn them enough to support their family back home.

Canada has several immigration streams that allow employers to hire temporary foreign workers to “address a specific, short-term labour need” in sectors where Canadians are “not available.”

“There’s no strong mechanism to punish illegal recruiters and this is why it continues to happen,” explains Jesson Reyes, Managing Director of MRCC.

Migrante Canada Chairperson Sol Pajadura provides an overview of history of migration to IMPACT workshop participants.

Migrante Canada Chairperson Sol Pajadura provides an overview of history of migration to IMPACT workshop participants.

These employer-specific work visas leave workers vulnerable to abuse – a problem that can be exacerbated by economic factors and a lack of familiarity with the Canadian legal system, local labour and employment rights, and limited English or French language skills as well as by the workers’ isolation in remote and rural areas, according to migrant workers advocates.

The labour pipeline bringing migrant workers to Canada is a “good prospect” according to Philippine authorities. “Not a single Filipino worker or OFW gave a negative comment of their stay there. They all appear to be very prosperous,” Philippine Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said in an earlier report on more OFW deployment to Canada.

But many complaints do not reach the Canadian government or get investigated by Canadian officials. Migrant worker advocates describe it as “modern slavery.”

This year, Ottawa responded with an initiative to give migrant caregivers a pathway to permanent residency in Canada, and a new pilot program to allow a limited number of other temporary foreign workers to gain permanent residency as well. But, the right of temporary workers to be in Canada remains almost completely tied to their annual contract with a single employer.

Human rights lawyer and York University assistant professor Fay Faraday, who has written three extensive reports on Canada’s migrant worker programs, says this kind of experience is still common.

“At all levels they are not treated as people with rights,” she says. “They are treated as fuel to be burned up.”

For MRCC’s Reyes, the program’s structure remains fundamentally unchanged unless migrant workers are empowered as key actors and governments held accountable. “We are campaigning for the Ministry of Labour in Ontario to provide licensing for all private recruitment agencies, register all employers who are hiring temporary foreign workers and lastly, permanent residency upon arrival for all migrant workers,” he said.

Reyes hopes the effects of the initial workshop on participants are lasting, as the project stays in ongoing contact with each individual and address their immediate concerns.