Gains and Gaps for Migrant Workers in Ontario’s Proposed New Workers Rights Regime

by Sharmeen Khan (Migrant Workers Alliance for Change) and Jackie Esmonde (Income Security Advocacy Centre)

Long hours of work for little pay, the inability to take time off of work when personal emergencies arise, fear that speaking out about abuses will lead to deportation – these are the kinds of working conditions faced by many of the 200,000 temporary foreign workers in Ontario.

The proposed changes to Ontario’s labour laws found in the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act (or Bill 148) have the potential to hugely impact their lives and well-being.

So how does the proposed Bill fare in terms of the lives and workplaces of migrant workers?

A $15 Minimum Wage Will Lift Many Migrant Workers out of Poverty

The Bill takes some important steps to address migrant worker precarity, including progress on personal leaves, and equal pay for temporary and part-time workers. A proposed $15 minimum wage is a cornerstone of this legislation and an important step towards lifting migrant workers out of poverty. Migrant workers are amongst the lowest paid workers in Ontario. They are a disposable workforce of predominantly Black or people of colour, whose skills and lives are seen as having little value.

Poverty in Canada is directly tied to poverty abroad. Migrant workers come to Canada in the hope of escaping poverty and despite their low wages, they send large portion of their earning back to their families.

Here are some other changes that can benefit migrant workers:

  • Ten days job protected personal emergency leave – two of these days will be paid. Employers cannot require medical notes when you are off sick.
  • Equal pay for equal work for seasonal workers – those seasonal workers that are doing a similar job as a full-time or permanent employee will be entitled to the same pay. This also applies to part-time, temporary agency and causal workers.
  • Three hours of pay for cancellation of work shift with less than 2 days’ notice and the right to refuse a shift scheduled with less than 4 days’ notice.

These are important gains that must be protected. At the same time we urge the government of Ontario to take this opportunity to address the following areas:

  • End exemptions: Only one quarter of workers in Ontario are completely covered by the minimum standards due to a complex web of exemptions. The proposed legislation does not address these exemptions, instead leaving the issue to a promised review in the fall. Many migrant workers fall within these exemptions. The Employment Standards Act sets the floor for the most basic workers’ rights – all workers should enjoy these rights. In the alternative, the legislation should strictly define the circumstances in which an exemption will be available.
  • Stop illegal recruitment fees: In 2009, the provincial government took an important step by prohibiting recruitment fees. However, there are ongoing reports of recruiters demanding exorbitant and illegal fees from migrant workers. Effective enforcement and mandatory registration for recruiters and employers is required to ensure that migrant workers can take home their pay.
  • Effective enforcement requires protection from repatriation for migrant workers: The important gains in the proposed legislation will be illusory unless enforcement is strengthened. MWAC welcomes government announcements about significant increases to enforcement resources. We urge the government to consider the particular vulnerabilities faced by migrant workers, who face immediate repatriation by unscrupulous employers if they complain. Working with the federal government to issue open work permits when complaints are made and allowing anonymous complaints would alleviate some barriers to enforcement for migrant workers.
  • Caregivers and agricultural workers must have equal rights to unionize: Unions are the most effective way to ensure fairness and democracy in workplaces. Yet agricultural workers and caregivers – two industries that are rife with abuse – are excluded from the Labour Relations Act and thus have no effective way to unionize. We urge government to accept the recommendations of the Special Advisors and end these unfair exemptions.

If you would like to help improve the working conditions of migrant workers, please go to Migrant Worker Alliance for Change for resources and tool kits. Click for more information on how you can help with the Fight for $15 and Fairness. 

Migrant Workers Deserve Minimum Wage

Migrant Workers Deserve Minimum Wage

IMG_20130906_115635 (1)Migrant Workers Alliance for Change and our member organizations Justice for Migrant Workers, Migrante Ontario, Parkdale Community Legal Services, Social Planning Toronto, Unifor and Workers Action Centre presented to the Ontario Minimum Wage Panel on Friday, September 6th.

We at MWAC fully support calls to increase minimum wage to $14/hour and to be tied to the rate of inflation. At $10.25, the minimum wage forces workers below the poverty line. We support the position of the Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage that the minimum wage should be set 10% above the poverty line, using the Low Income Measure and assuming a 35-hour work week. Furthermore, the minimum wage should be updated every year with the cost of living.

Migrant workers live and work in our communities. A raise in the minimum wage will support the local businesses and communities where they live.  However, under current minimum wage laws, many migrant workers are unable to access minimum wage like their colleagues and neighbours. In our presentation, we clarified that:

(1) Ontarians in the agriculture industry including those deemed migrant workers are excluded from Ontario’s minimum wage laws. This is fundamentally unfair and unjust. All minimum wage exemptions in the Employment Standards Act must be removed.
(2) Many Ontarians that are denied full immigration status by the federal government face legal obstacles that make it impossible for them to assert their right to minimum wage. In our experience, a great number of workers are being denied minimum wage or overtime pay. Specific anti-reprisal laws must be developed and these legal obstacles removed.
(3) Ontario currently does not track employers and recruiter of Ontarians deemed migrant workers and therefore has little enforcement capacity. All employers and recruiters in Ontario must be registered, must be forced to put up lines of credit, and must be held jointly and severally liable for any violations.

Read our full oral submission here.


12 recommendations to end migrant and undocumented worker poverty in Ontario.

12 recommendations to end migrant and undocumented worker poverty in Ontario.
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: (more…)

Everyone agrees: No one should pay to work

Everyone agrees: No one should pay to work

The Canada Council for Refugees, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Metcalf Foundation and even the Law Commission of Ontario agree: Migrant workers need protection from recruiters. Current laws must be expanded and fully implemented.

Only the Ontario Ministry of Labour remains out of step. Not enough has been done to stop recruiter exploitation of migrant workers. We know Minister Yasir Naqvi knows of these demands, the question is when will he act?


Federal Immigration policy changes lack enough protection for migrants


29 April, 2013 

Media Liaison: Syed Hussan, coordinator@migrantworkersalliance.org416 453 3632

Federal Immigration policy changes lack enough protection for migrants
Consultations with migrant workers necessary for meaningful change

The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC), a coalition of migrant worker groups and community, faith, and labour allies who have worked directly with migrant workers for decades believes that the minor changes introduced today do not respond to the key concerns migrant workers have identified in the program and are mostly cosmetic.

“We are not stealing jobs, but filling the ones that Canadians do not want due to the long hours, low pay, and live-in requirement,” insists Kay Manuel, a live-in caregiver and member of the Caregivers Action Centre. “The biggest problem with the migrant worker program is that we don’t have the same rights as citizens, the only solution is full immigration status for all workers.”

“We are tired of hearing about laws about how we migrant workers live and work without our voices and concerns ever being heard,” Manuel added.

“Either the Tories want to launch the largest deportation campaign in the history of Canada by shutting out 300,000 migrant workers or they are just posturing in response to public outcry over the failings of the program they created,” adds Chris Ramsaroop, who has worked with agricultural workers in Ontario for the last ten years. “While incremental steps have been taken to eliminate the 15% and 5% rule, and the elimination of the Accelerated LMO process, the core structures of the TFW programs that deny migrant workers the ability to exert their rights have remained intact. Migrant workers will now face greater hardships because of the downloading of LMO costs on to employers which really just means downloading it on to the workers. This adds to the huge sums of money migrant workers already have to pay to get work in Canada.”

“The entire argument about migrant workers taking jobs that unemployed Canadians would otherwise take is about exceptions not the rule,” says Syed Hussan, Coordinator of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change. “In the past these low-paying jobs were held by new immigrants not young unemployed Canadians, except they had full status and could bring their families. Now it’s the same demographic working the same jobs, except they have lesser rights. It’s not workers stealing jobs from Canadians, it’s the Conservative government stealing status from immigrants, and separating families.”

Short-term reforms to the Temporary Foreign Workers Program

Here are some immediate steps the Conservative government can take to correct the mistaken policies of past years:

  • Eliminate the 4 and 4 rule under which workers can work in Canada for four years and are banned for the next four
  • End the downloading of costs through LMO user fees on to employers and/or migrant workers.
  • Restore the EI special benefits for TFWP, and ensure full access to employment insurance to all workers that have been employed in Canada.
  • Work with provinces to develop a pan-Canadian framework to register and regulate recruiters and employers to ensure that workers rights are protected, and that recruiter fees are eliminated.

Any further reforms to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program must prioritize consultation and decision making by migrant workers themselves.