Toronto – 75 migrant worker supporters gathered outside the offices of employer lobby group Restaurant Canada today calling for permanent status for low-skilled migrant workers in the country. Employment Minister Jason Kenney is expected to announce changes to the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP) this week. Actions also took place in Montreal, Ottawa and Calgary at ESDC and Jason Kenney’s office.
“The feds continue to make knee-jerk policies by press release that do not include migrant worker voices or concerns,” says Syed Hussan, coordinator of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC), Canada’s largest migrant worker coalition, which organized today’s protest. “We need full immigration status for migrant workers in the low-skilled and agriculture streams immediately.”
Migrant worker supporters held signs that read ‘Immigration Not Deportation’, and chanted for over an hour. Changes proposed by Kenney in closed door meetings have included raising fees for Labour Market Opinions which advocates warn will be simply downloaded to migrant workers in the absence of comprehensive recruiter regulations. No announcements from the provinces are expected.
“Provincial and federal laws together that work to make migrants a second-class category of workers who are then pitted against unemployed citizens and permanent residents,” explained Tzazna Miranda Leal, organizer with Justice for Migrant Workers, member organization of MWAC.
“The solution is to give migrant workers access to permanent immigration status and remove those exclusions from labour protections for all workers. That’s what will make migrant workers and unemployed citizens allies in the fight for better jobs and stronger communities,” Leal adds. Advocates are also concerned about the changes to TFWP are exacerbating an anti-immigrant backlash where migrant workers are being blamed for joblessness.Two members of anti-immigrant group Immigrant Watch Canada responsible for racist anti-Sikh flyers in Brampton stood a block away holding anti-migrant worker signs.
“Workers across Canada are facing precarious, low-wage jobs and tough economic times,” insisted Deena Ladd from the Workers Action Centre. “Let’s not repeat history’s mistakes of blaming immigrants for unemployment in times of economic downturn. We need a decent job agenda that raises standards for all workers, not an arbitrary exclusion of migrant workers.”
The protest also made connections between TFWP, and creation of temporary immigration streams for parents, grandparents and spouses as well as the drop in refugee acceptance numbers.
“We need to understand the expansion of TFWP as one part of a dangerous shift in Canadian immigration policy towards temporariness and exclusion,” explains Perry Sorio, member of Migrante Canada, an MWAC member. “Permanency and stability are necessary to build healthy communities. We need to overhaul the entire immigration system and re-institute access to permanent status for immigrants in low-skilled occupations.”
Migrant Workers Alliance for Change is Canada’s largest migrant worker rights coalition. It includes Alliance of South Asian Aid Prevention, Asian Community Aids Services, Caregivers Action Centre, Industrial Accident Victims’ Group of Ontario, Justicia for Migrant Workers,KAIROS, Legal Aid Windsor, Migrante Ontario, No One Is Illegal – Toronto, Parkdale Community Legal Services, Social Planning Toronto,UNIFOR, United Food and Commercial Workers and the Workers’ Action Centre. www.