The Government of Ontario is organizing a consultation on its poverty reduction strategy.Community groups have long demanded good jobs, a liveable income, minimum wage increases, and a raise in social welfare rates to pull Ontarians out of poverty. Communities need and demand decent transit, strong public programs and a commitment to social justice and equity. Many insist that Ontario must invest resources and set targets that reduce poverty for everyone, prioritizing children, families, and communities, not austerity. We at the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change Agree.
But we know that most of the 350,000 Ontarians who are migrant workers and undocumented people don’t get minimum wage, overtime pay, OW, ODSP, social housing, full healthcare or social service programs. Few migrant and undocumented workers can reunite with their families, and those that do are denied the most basic rights and protections. Ontario must do more to end migrant and undocumented workers poverty.
12 easy steps!
For too long non-status and migrant worker Ontarians have been pushed aside. This time, let’s make it right. Here are 12 easy short-terms steps Ontario could take to address migrant and undocumented worker poverty:
- Include migrant and undocumented communities in the dialogue on poverty reduction. Lifting these members of our community out of poverty will lift the floor and ensure that everyone is better off.
- Ban all fees for work. Register all migrant worker employers and recruiters in the province and hold them jointly and severally liable for abuses against workers, including the charging of recruitment and placement fees.
- Expand protections so that all workers are included and receive equal protection under the Employment Standards Act including minimum wage, overtime, vacation and holiday pay, hours of work, daily and weekly/bi-weekly rest periods, eating periods, and time off between shifts.
- Restore employment equity legislation.
- Include migrant worker housing under Ontario’s Residential and Tenancies Act. This would prevent the substandard housing that exists today. Allow immigrants without full status access to subsidized housing.
- Extend Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act to include protections for all workers (this includes protections for domestic workers). Develop regulations to ensure that workers are protected against racial and sexual harassment and violence at work in Ontario’s OHSA Act. Ensure that there are ongoing consultations with migrant and undocumented workers.
- Expand fairness to migrant and undocumented workers under Workplace Safety and Insurance System. Practices such as deeming where benefits of injured workers are cut off when they are defined as ‘fit to work’ result in migrant workers having their benefits eliminated for non-existent jobs in their home country. Deeming practices force workers abroad into poverty as a result of injuries or sickness that occurred while working in Ontario. Deeming practices must be stopped. WSIB must be updated with migrant workers and undocumented workers input.
- Remove the three month period that migrant workers are denied healthcare upon arrival in Ontario. Amend the Ontario Health Act so that Ontarians are not denied full health care simply because the federal government denies them full immigration status.
- Migrant and undocumented Ontarians should be able to access Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program.
- Ensure full access to education, jobs training and skills development for migrant workers and undocumented people.
- Implement and enforce anti reprisal measures to protect migrant and undocumented workers who exert their rights. This would ensure that they are able to speak out against exploitative conditions and break the cycle of silence. This would include: proactive enforcement, extending the time-cap for workers past the length of their visa to file complaints and develop mechanisms to prevent the repatriation/and or deportation of workers who exert their rights.
- Regularize migrant workers and undocumented people through re-negotiations of the Canada-Ontario Immigration Agreement.
Let’s envision a better Ontario
Ontario must focus on pulling all communities out of poverty – and that includes migrant and undocumented workers and families in the province many of whom are poor people of colour. Ontario must ensure that immigrants that feed, build and take care of Ontario do not return to countries they came from injured, sick and in poverty. That means assessing the ways in which Ontario’s laws have pushed migrant and undocumented workers and families into poverty and working with them and their allies to reverse this course.Let’s imagine all Ontarians, be they termed migrant workers, non-status people, refugees, immigrants, and newcomers working together to end poverty. People not having to choose between paying the rent and feeding their children, between going to school or staying in the country. People being able to take time off because they have sick days; being full compensated for their work including minimum wage and overtime pay; able to work full-time and earn a living wage; not be cut out from fairness at work and good health at home because they do not have full-time work; and being able to live together with their families, here and now, and have a say in their futures because they have the time to participate fully in society. Together, we can make this happen.