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.