The Right to Unionize for Migrant Workers

The Right to Unionize for Migrant Workers


Please read the joint submission by Migrant Workers Alliance for Change and Caregivers Action Centre entitled

Stronger Together:

Delivering on the Constitutionally Protected Right to Unionize for Migrant Workers

This submission was written by Fay Faraday, a member of Migrant Workers Alliance for Change and part of the Equal Pay Coalition.

You can download and read the submission here.

Migrant workers earn low wages and have work permits tied to one employer. This creates a context of rampant abuse and exploitation. Yet they are legally denied the right to unionize and collectively bargain.

Despite the recommendations of the Changes Workplaces Review, the current proposals in Bill 148 do not address or correct the the denial of these fundamental rights to migrant workers.

We are demanding that the exclusion domestic workers, agricultural workers and horticultural workers from the Labour Relations Act must be repealed. We also demand that the Labour Relations Action be reformed to enable broader based bargaining where migrant workers are employed.

For more information about this submission, contact

Resources to Mobilize Around Bill 148

Resources to Mobilize Around Bill 148

Migrant Worker Voices Need to be Heard at Committee Hearings: Resources to Make a Difference

It is vital for migrant workers, advocates and allies to support Bill 148 and highlight how it will impact migrant workers in Ontario. At the same time, migrant workers need far more significant changes to ensure decent work. Read our blog and our written submission for facts and analysis about the impacts of the changes for migrant workers.

The importance of this bill for migrant workers is:

  • an increase to the minimum wage could lift migrant workers out of poverty;
  • ten personal emergency leaves (two paid) will mean that migrant workers can take sick days or emergency leaves without fear of losing their jobs;
  • equal pay for equal work (which will benefit seasonal workers).

While more changes are always needed to protect migrant workers around better enforcement, their ability to collectively bargain and more paid emergency leaves, we can support the immediate progressive changes and still mobilize to improve them. But we also need to push back against the backlash, which has been intensifying.

What Can I Do?

Write a Letter to the Editor

Its important for everyday people to give their opinion on the upcoming changes. Short, personal stories often make the best impact. You can respond to a story directly or give an anecdote to why support the changes to Bill 148. Here is an example if you need some inspiration:

Dear Editor,

Your latest story on the impacts of raising the minimum wage neglects one important sector of workers. These workers are often invisible yet they contribute significantly to our economy. They might be harvesting our food or caring for our children and elderly. This work is vital to the functioning of our society, yet these workers are some of the lowest paid workers in Ontario.  Not only do they perform hard work for low wages, but their immigration status puts them in positions of exploitation and abuse. I am speaking of the almost 200,000 temporary foreign workers that work and live in Ontario.

Many commentators are talking about how the changes of the bill will help precarious workers. This is absolutely true for migrant workers. The changes will help a sector of workers that are mostly people of colour trying to lift their families out of poverty. The proposed changes would not only help with wages, but also protect migrant workers if they are sick or need to leave for an emergency. While the bill doesn’t solve everything, it’s a step in the right direction to raise the dignity and working conditions of the people who grow our food and care for our children and elderly.

Migrant workers are important people in our community – their work sustains our health with the produce we consume. They provide care for people most needing care in our society. By supporting the changes to the bill (and fighting for more), it will create more stability and security for the most marginalized in our workforce.

Contact your MPP

Writing or calling your MPP is the best way for them to hear from their constituents. Write or call your MPP to ensure they support the changes and even push them to fight for improvements.

To find a list of MPPs, go here. To find out which electoral riding you are in, enter your address here.

Here are some ideas of what you could say to your MPP:
Hi, my name is [name is optional] ___________________________and I live in your riding of _______________________________.

I am calling because I am excited about the changes to Ontario’s labour laws announced by Premier Kathleen Wynne, in particular the $15 Minimum Wage, the Personal Emergency Leave, and equal pay for equal work

I work with migrant workers who are some of the most precarious workers in this labour market, and know very well that migrant workers need specific protections. While we are optimistic, we also urge you to consider that there is room to extend protections to all workers, including migrant workers. We hope that you will help us by proposing these changes to any upcoming legislation.

  1. $15 Minimum wage for ALL. That means no exemptions from minimum wages for agricultural workers or anyone else.
  2. More Paid Personal Emergency Leave Days. Many migrant workers are at risk of losing their job if they are sick or need to attend to a personal/family matter at home. While having 2 personal emergency leave days is a good start, having seven will help the most precarious workers whose family live outside of Canada.
  3. Enforcement. We need better, more proactive enforcement when employers break the law. We need inspections of the homes that caregivers live and work in. We need a faster process for resolving Employment Standards Act anti-reprisal claims when workers are at risk of being sent back home, and temporary permits while their claims are being processed.

Take to social media

Use the hashtags #MakeItRight, ##15andFairness and ##ONPoli on Twitter and Facebook. Don’t forget to mention any MPPs you want to direct your Tweet.

Don’t forget to tag us on Twitter and Facebook if you are using social media. And send a copy of letters to MPP’s and newspapers to our email

For more information on organizing around the hearings and writing a submission, please check out the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign.

Ontario Immigration Act – Submission to Standing Comittee

Ontario Immigration Act - Submission to Standing Comittee

Submission by Migrant Workers Alliance for Change to Standing Committee on Justice Policy of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario

April 16, 2015

A comprehensive recruiter regulation system in Ontario requires legislation that is designed with a view to ending the practice of migrant workers paying fees to work in Ontario. Specific measures to this end include:

  1. Require compulsory licensing of all recruiters working in Ontario with a financial bond: Currently anyone can recruit migrant workers in Canada or abroad, charge them large fees, and either put them in contact with a Canadian employer or walk away without actually providing the job they promised. To counter the abuses inherent in this system, all recruiters in Ontario must be licensed, the list of licensed recruiters should be easily accessible online to migrant workers around the world, and the licensing should include a financial bond.
  2. Require compulsory registration of all migrant worker employers in Ontario: Employers choose which recruiters they work with, and are often aware of the fees being paid by migrant workers overseas or in Ontario. As such, as effective recruitment regulation process requires knowing which employers hire migrant workers in the province. Currently, Ontario depends on the federal government’s willingness to share information about employers that hire migrant workers. A compulsory and robust employer registration system is required for effective recruiter regulation.
  3. Hold recruiters and employers jointly financially liable for violating labour protections: This practice is already the law in Manitoba and other provinces and ensures that responsibility for violations is not passed to recruiters abroad. Instead, employers should be held accountable for working with appropriate recruiters (who should be licensed in Ontario) to ensure that migrant workers do not face abuse. This practice ensures predictability and certainty for employers, recruiters and migrant workers.

Click HERE to read our full submissions.

Healthcare for Migrant Workers

Healthcare for Migrant Workers

Marites Angana died on December 02, 2014. As a domestic worker, she was excluded from the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which means that she did not have the same rights to refuse work, and no Ministry of Labour investigation will take place in to her death. Marites death is not an anomaly. Migrant workers arrive in Ontario having passed multiple health checks, and many return home sick, and injured, sometimes dead. Just last week, the Toronto Star did an in-depth story on Winston Morrisson who worked in Canada as a Seasonal Agricultural Worker. He was sent home with a leg injury, and lack of adequate health care supports means that he was forced to have his leg amputated.

It is time for such tragedies to end. Its time that migrant workers work in healthy jobs, not in those that make them sick. With that in mind, I am outlining some key issues that migrant workers face in accessing health care, and an initial set of recommendations for legislative and regulatory reform. I have focused on some key asks, but am happy to provide supporting research, documentation and worker information that led to the development of these.

The four three areas in reference to health care are:

  1. Occupational Health and Safety Act
  2. Access to Health Services
  3. Workplace Safety Insurance Board
  4. Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program.

Click HERE to download the MWAC’s letter to the Ontario Premier’s Office.

Ontario Immigration Act

Ontario Immigration Act

On November 26, 2014, the Ontario Liberals re-introduced the Ontario Immigration Act (Bill 49). The Bill is now in its Second Reading. Debate will recommence some time after the Members of Provincial Parliament (MPP) return to the Ontario legislature on February 17, 2014. This is an initial analysis of the Ontario Immigration Act. We will be releasing more information in mid-February.

While this legislation is framed as an ‘Ontario Immigration Act’, it provides no real rights, benefits or access to immigration status for low-waged migrant workers in Ontario. It does not effectively free migrant workers from fees, or regulate unscrupulous recruiters. As it stands, the Ontario Immigration Act is designed to facilitate recruitment of high-waged migrants to Ontario in line with the new Federal Express Entry immigration system and develop provincial temporary immigration programs.

If passed, the Ontario Immigration Act would:

  • Give Ontario the power to create its own temporary or permanent immigration programs, provided the Federal Government agrees to their creation.
  • Give Ontario the power to create a registry of employers that hire within these new Ontario-determined programs. The registries are not compulsory.
  • Give Ontario the power to create a registry of recruiters who refer migrants to employment in these Ontario-determined programs. This registry would not include immigration consultants who are often recruiters, and is not compulsory.
  • Give Ontario the power to create an inspections and investigations department that will have powers two years from the date this Act comes into force. These investigators have entry, search, seizure and fine levying powers to ensure that:
    • Unregistered recruiters do not recruit migrant workers to Ontario’s programs
    • Unauthorized immigration representatives do not work in Ontario; and
    • Recruiters and representatives follow required protocols if and when they are registered.
  • Allow Ontario to share information about employers and recruiters with other provincial and federal agencies, provided that registries are created.
  • Give Ontario the power to fund non-governmental bodies to promote settlement and integration of immigrants. No actual funding is guaranteed.
  • Give the Minister of Immigration and the Government the power to make subsequent changes Ontario’s immigration policy by regulation, and without having to table new laws.

The Ontario Immigration Act does not legislate changes, it instead grants the government the power to implement reforms should it decide to do so. Moving key reforms into the realm of regulations, rather than legislation, further distances them from public scrutiny and influence. The Ontario Immigration Act is a missed opportunity for creating meaningful recruitment regulations in Ontario, and ignores best practices being developed in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and elsewhere.

For the recruiter and employer registry aspects of the Ontario Immigration Act to work, the Ontario Immigration Act must be transformed with a view to ending the practice of migrant workers paying fees to work in Ontario. Specific measure to this end include:

  1. Require compulsory licensing of all recruiters working in Ontario with a financial bond: Recruiters charge migrant workers thousands of dollars, and seize documents from them to connect them with employers in Ontario. A robust licensing system, with a financial bond is necessary to end this practice.
  2. Require compulsory registration of all migrant worker employers in Ontario: Ontario depends on the federal government’s willingness to share information about employers that hire migrant workers. A compulsory and robust registration is system is necessary for accountability when fees are illegally charged from workers.
  3. Hold recruiters and employers jointly financially liable for violating labour protections: This practice is already the law in Manitoba and other provinces and ensures that responsibility for violations is not passed to recruiters abroad. Instead employers should be held accountable for working with appropriate recruiters (who should be licensed in Ontario) to ensure that migrant workers do not face abuse.
  4. Use employer and recruiter registries to uphold labour rights: Recruiter and employer registries should sit within the Ministry of Labour that has the expertise and the legal status to enforce employment standards, ensuring that migrant workers are not charged fees, and that their rates of pay and conditions of work meet Ontario’s minimum standards.

The Ontario Immigration Act should also include access to Permanent Residency for low-wage workers.

  1. Ontario is one of the few provinces where the provincial immigration nominee program explicitly excludes low-waged workers. A fair Ontario Immigration Act would provide provincial access to permanent residency to workers of all skill levels, including low-wage, often deskilled & de-professionalized migrant workers.

The current legislative framework in Ontario is a web of exclusions that prevent migrant workers from accessing equal wages, decent housing, healthy jobs, protection from abusive recruiters and employers and the ability to enforce their rights. It is time for a comprehensive look at all provincial legislations that impact the lives and working conditions of migrant workers. It is time for comprehensive legislation that:

  1. Prioritizes the right to immigration status on landing for migrant workers: Ontario should push for permanent immigration status for all migrant workers who build, feed, and care for Ontario.
  2. Ensure that labour standards including health and safety and anti-reprisals protections; housing and other social entitlements are equally accessible: Migrant workers are excluded from many of Ontario’s rights and protections. Some migrant workers are not paid minimum wage because of their occupations; some are not covered by health and safety protections or receive adequate compensation when injured; employer-provided housing for migrant workers is often not regulated; and Ontario’s anti-reprisals protections do not adequately respond to migrant worker vulnerabilities. Many other social entitlements are unavailable. Comprehensive legislation is needed to ensure migrant workers have equal access to all social rights and protections, which includes:
    1. Strengthen anti reprisal protections so that migrant workers can exert their in the workplace
    2. Expand occupational health and safety so that all workers are protected at work
    3. Eliminate discriminatory provisions in workers compensation so that injured workers can live with dignity
    4. Ensure that migrant workers can access Ontario’s social safety net including access to social assistance.
    5. Update Ontario’s employments standard act so that it levels the playing field for precarious migrant workers.
    6. Expand tenant protections do that migrant workers are not relegated to sub standard housing and can live in housing of their choice.

Moving forward

Changes need to be made to provincial and federal policy to ensure migrant workers in agriculture, care work, and other sectors gain meaningful rights and protections. To do this, we need you to get involved!

  • Get educated: Follow Migrant Workers Alliance for Change on email, facebook, and twitter.
  • Get active: Reach out to member organizations of MWAC or other groups that work with migrant workers and volunteer your time with them. Help create the space for migrant workers to gather and determine their own political agenda.
  • Pressure the politicians: Reach out to your your MPPs and your MPs and let them know that you are watching them.

The Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act, 2014 (Bill 18)

The Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act, 2014 (Bill 18)

Thanks to pressure from workers and the public, the Ontario government has re-introduced legislation that will make some improvements to the working conditions of workers including migrant workers. Bill 18 will ban recruitment fees for all migrant workers; remove the arbitrary monetary cap on reclaiming unpaid wages and tougher penalties for employment standards violations. These are good steps but comprehensive changes are still needed. Download our Backgrounder on Bill 18.

Migrant Workers and Bill 18

Migrant workers are often forced to pay recruiters thousands of dollars in fees, just to find a job. Many workers have little choice but to borrow the money, which can mean a debt burden on workers and their families, making them even more vulnerable to exploitation. Bill 18 extends the current law that bans recruitment fees for live-in caregivers to all migrant workers under the federal Temporary Foreign Worker Program. While this provision is a step forward, it also relies on a complaints-based model for law enforcement, a model that has been proven to be ineffective for caregivers. Bill 18 still allows employers to recover certain costs (to be defined by government) from migrant workers, which could undermine the very protections Bill 18 is supposed to create. No worker should have to pay to work. Bill 18 should be strengthened by adopting and improving on best practices from Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia.

Bill 18 will extend the time period in which workers can file claims against employers for unpaid wages, from six months to two years. The Bill also allows workers to claim up to two years worth of unpaid wages (formerly it was only six months) and removes the $10,000 limit on the amount of unpaid wages workers can claim. There would be no limit under this law. These measures represent a real victory for workers. However, many migrant workers are tied to their employers for up to 4 years and are unable to assert their rights during this period.

We want Bill 18 amended so that it:

  • Eliminates any provision or potential provision under which employers “recover” recruitment or employment costs from migrant workers;
  • Gives migrant workers at least five years to file complaints so that they can seek justice after their contracts have finished;
  • Makes the government responsible for proactively enforcing the law and eliminates the self-reporting provisions of the Bill;
  • Allows third-party complaints and fast-track investigations where reprisals are alleged;
  • Extends joint responsibility to both employers and recruiters for any exploitative, migrant worker recruitment practice;
  • Licenses recruiters and registers employers and requires recruiters to provide a guaranteed security deposit from which migrant workers can be compensated when recruiters violate laws.

Get in touch with us. Email so that we can get these important amendments made.


Fair Ontario Immigration Act

Fair Ontario Immigration Act

On February 19, 2013, the Ontario Liberals introduced the Ontario Immigration Act (Bill 161). Through Bill 161, the government is seeking control over immigration to Ontario. An important goal of the bill is to enable “immigrants to settle in Ontario and integrate quickly into and to participate fully in Ontario society.” As currently written, however, Bill 161 will not achieve this goal for the majority of migrant workers that come to this province.  It is essential that key revisions be made to this Bill, otherwise new legislation will be necessary.

A genuine Ontario Immigration Act must include just access for migrant workers. This means:

  • Inclusion: Full immigration status and access to benefits
  • Accountability: regulating recruiters and employers
  • Breaking down silos: Cooperation between governments
  • Proactive enforcement

Bill 161 fails to do so.

In bringing forward much-needed policy and legislation on immigration and migrant workers in this province, the government has the opportunity to create a legislative framework of fairness; a framework grounded on the principle that workers that come to work and build this province should be allowed to stay if they chose and access the benefits of their labour. In short, Ontario’s immigration policy must support access to residency status to all workers and protection for temporary workers from recruiter and employer exploitation. The Bill fails to do this.

Unfortunately, Bill 161 appears to be focused on bringing Ontario in line with the federal government’s “Expression –of-Interest” model of immigration slated to come into effect next year. This new federal system will set up a system to allow governments and employers to select immigrants based on employment and labour market needs. Bill 161 would enable the Ontario government to create selection programs for permanent residents (for example, under the Provincial Nominee Program) or temporary workers (for example, under the temporary foreign worker program).  The Bill would also allow the government to set up a registry of employers and recruiters to participate in selection programs.

The government is seeking to be more competitive with other jurisdictions in order to boost Ontario’s economic class immigrants from the current 52% to 70% of all immigrants to the province. It would do this through an increase in the number of immigrants that Ontario can select under the Provincial Nominee Program from the current 2,500 to 5,000 per year with a focus on economic class immigrants rather than workers that continue to build the province through temporary foreign workers programs (construction, caregiving, farming, hospitality services etc).

We are concerned that Bill 161 will give recruiters and employers more control over the immigration selection process and not civil society. There is nothing in the Bill to address the exorbitant fees that recruiters charge workers for employment under these programs. Nor is there anything in the bill to address substandard employment conditions that all too many migrant workers face that come through such selection programs. The Ontario Government is going in the opposite direction of the best practices established by Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia that have legislated proactive protection from exploitation by recruiters and employers.

Download our analysis of Bill 161 and what a genuine Ontario immigration act would be:  Creating a Genuine and Fair Ontario Immigration Act.

Get in touch with if you would like to depute on this Bill.

What’s in Bill 146

What's in Bill 146

Bill 146 introduces many changes that Migrant Workers Alliance for Change and Workers Action Centre members and supporters across the province have been calling for.  If passed the new legislation would:

  1. Ban recruitment fees for all migrant workers
  2. Give workers 2 years to claim unpaid wages
  3. Get rid of the unfair $10,000 limit on the unpaid wages that can be claimed
  4. Make temp agencies and client companies jointly liable for ESA violations
  5. End WSIB rating system loopholes that provided an incentive for companies to use temp agencies

The Ministry of Labour also announced that they will fulfill their 2008 commitment to $10 million for proactive employment standards enforcement. The government pledged to bring in more penalties for employers who violate the law and indicated the need to continue to make further changes to address precarious employment.

Read MWAC Migrant worker members responses here.

Click here to download our analysis of Bill 146 and recommendations to strengthen it.

Ending migrant worker exploitation by recruiters

Key Issues

Migrant workers are paying up to an equivalent of two years’ salaries in fees in their home countries to unscrupulous recruiters and agencies to work in Canada. To pay these fees, entire families go into debt.

Often when workers arrive here, work conditions and wages are not as they were promised or agreed to.

With families back home in debt, workers are afraid to complain about ill treatment by bad bosses here. In some cases when workers complained about recruitment fees, they faced abuse and deportation. Recruiters have been known to punish entire communities by blacklisting their ability to come to Canada.

Employers pass the buck to recruiters in Canada, who in turn claim that its recruiters in sending countries that are the real culprits. Ontario does not have effective enforcement tools to hold recruiters and employers accountable.

In 2009, migrant worker members of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change succeeded in passing the Employment Protections for Foreign Nationals Act (EPFNA) which banned charging recruitment fees from caregivers.

The way forward.

We expect Ontario to ban recruitment fees and bar the seizure of documents from all migrant workers rather than just live-in caregivers as is currently mandated in the EPFNA filling in part of the legislative gap. However, two-thirds of the caregivers the Caregivers Action Centre surveyed after EPFNA came into force paid fees averaging $3,275.  EPFNA relies heavily on worker complaints rather than proactive enforcement making it a weak legislative tool.

Register and license employers and recruiters: The Ontario and Federal government do not keep track of recruiters. Manitoba, Saskatchewan and other provinces are moving towards registering employers and licensing recruiters so that provinces have direct jurisdiction over them. By licensing recruiters, provinces have the ability to carry out targeted enforcement, release a list of accredited recruiters that employers and workers can access and be able to track recruiters that break the law without having to rely solely on workers’ speaking out. For Ontario to ensure recruitment fees are not collected, it must register employers and license recruiters.

Joint and several liability: Manitoba, Saskatchewan and other provinces are moving towards asking for lines of credit or bonds put up by recruiters and employers and holding employers and recruiters jointly responsible for fees charged all the way down the recruitment pipeline. By holding all parties equally financially responsible, provinces are able to enforce a ban on recruitment fees and ensure that workers charged fees are able to recover them. This works hand in hand with recruiter licensing as employers are able to work with approved recruiters and avoid worker abuse.

Anti-reprisals mechanisms: Migrant workers must be able to make complaints about lost fees after their contracts are complete (up to four years) so that they don’t have to choose between keeping their jobs and recovering fees paid abroad. Community members must be able to make complaints about unfair recruiters and employers and provisions must be in place to give access to temporary resident permits to migrant workers while they have Ministry of Labour complaints pending so they do not get deported while waiting for a decision.

Further down the line, inter-provincial and bi-lateral agreements with other states must be established to ensure that recruiters do not skip provinces after charging monies and stop offering fake jobs in Canada that don’t exist.  Recruitment fees are one part of the puzzle. Migrant workers deserve equal wages, healthy jobs, decent housing, and a strong voice. Most of all migrant workers deserve the opportunity to have full immigration status on landing.

Migrant Workers respond to proposed Ontario law

Banning recruitment fees for all migrant workers; removing the arbitrary monetary cap on reclaiming unpaid wages and tougher penalties for employment standards violations announced today means that migrant workers gain a few more protections today, but comprehensive changes are still needed says the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC), Canada’s largest migrant worker advocacy coalition.

Changes were also announced today for other workers in precarious jobs, see our member organization Workers Action Centre’s update on that here.

“After migrant workers exposed abuses by recruiters in 2009, we won protections for live-in caregivers but other migrant workers were unnecessarily excluded. Today after four years of migrant workers speaking out about their experiences, recruitment fees have finally been banned for all migrant workers.

Unfortunately over two-thirds of the caregivers we surveyed after the law came into effect in 2009 still paid fees. That’s because these protections rely on complaints and not proactive enforcement. For there to be meaningful protections, Ontario must follow provinces like Manitoba and implement employer and recruiter registration, licensing and regulation including joint and several financial liability.

Migrant workers are not inherently vulnerable, its provincial laws that exclude us from basic protections that make us so. Many migrant workers are women and racialized people who are being denied immigration status by the Federal Government. Ontario must step up. We are urging Ontario’s government to sit down with migrant workers and update labour laws and other legislation. It is high time that migrant worker achieve the same protections and benefits as other Ontarians.

Liza Draman, Caregivers Action Centre