Policy Brief: Submission from CMWRC & MWAC to HUMA

Submission to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities


These submissions are being jointly made by Coalition for Migrant Worker Rights Canada (CMWRC) and the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC). CMWRC is the representative body of migrant workers in the country. Our members include Cooper Institute in Prince Edward Island, Caregiver Connections Education and Support Organization (CCESO), Migrant Worker Solidarity Network in Manitoba, Migrante Canada, Migrant Workers Alliance for Change in Ontario, Radical Action with Migrants in Agriculture in Okanagan Valley, Temporary Foreign Workers Association in Quebec, Temporary Foreign Workers Coalition in Alberta, Vancouver Committee for Domestic Workers and Caregiver Rights in Vancouver and West Coast Domestic Workers Association in Vancouver.

The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC) includes Alliance of South Asian Aid Prevention, Asian Community Aids Services, Caregivers Action Centre, Fuerza Puwersa, Industrial Accident Victims’ Group of Ontario, Justicia for Migrant Workers, Legal Assistance of Windsor, Migrante Ontario, No One Is Illegal – Toronto, Parkdale Community Legal Services, Social Planning Toronto, South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario, Unifor, United Food and Commercial Workers, Workers’ Action Centre and Workers United.

These recommendations have been endorsed by AIDS Committee of Durham Region, Jesuit Refugee Service, Retail Action Network BC, Refugees Welcome Fredericton, SAME Brock Chapter, MigrantWorkersRights Canada, BC Employment Standards Coalition, Migrante BC, PINAY Quebec, People’s Health Movement Canada/Mouvement populaire pour la santé au Canada, Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network, Migrant Worker Health Project (International Migration Research Centre), Gabriella Ontario, AAFQ (association des aides familiales du Québec/Caregivers Association of Quebec) and Inter Pares.

Migrant worker policy submissions to the Changing Workplace Review

Across Ontario migrant worker allies issued recommendations to the Special Advisors of the Changing Workplaces Review calling for swift reforms to the Employment Standards Act and the Ontario Labour Relations Act.

Download and read them here.

  • Submissions from the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change HERE
  • Submissions from Justice for Migrant Workers HERE
  • Submissions from the Caregivers Action Centre HERE
  • Submissions from Fuerza Puwersa HERE
  • Submissions from Toronto Workers Health and Safety Legal Clinic HERE
  • Submissions from Dr. Jenna Hennebry, Dr. Janet McLaughlin and Dr. Kerry Preibisch HERE
  • Submissions from Erinn Burke, Northumberland County HERE

Ontario Immigration Act – Submission to Standing Committee

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.

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 coordinator@migrantworkersalliance.org so that we can get these important amendments made.

Decent Work, Decent Lives – What’s in the Bills?

We have a real opportunity to effect change

This spring, we have a real opportunity to pass laws that will improve our wages and working conditions. There are now several important bills being considered by Members of Provincial Parliament. But we need to work together to make sure that these bills are strengthened and passed before the Legislative Assembly breaks for the summer. Even if an election is called, this is a recipe for change that we can all get behind.

Here’s what’s at stake:

Prohibiting recruitment fees for migrant workers

In order to work in Ontario, migrant workers pay unscrupulous recruiters tens of thousands of dollars in fees; many have little choice but to borrow the money. This debt makes migrant workers – and their families – vulnerable to loan sharks and unprincipled employers and makes it even more dangerous for migrant workers to speak out.

  • Bill 146 extends the ban on recruitment fees from live-in caregivers to all migrant workers.
  • Bill 161 gives Minister of Citizenship and Immigration the power to create registries for employers and recruiters but does not specify any details,
  • Bill 161 unfairly excludes low-waged migrant workers from access to immigration status

We can strengthen Bills 146 and modify Bill 161 by ensuring that:

  • There is a proactive and public system to license recruiters and register employers who hire migrant workers;
  • Recruiters are required to put forward a mandatory financial security in form of a bond, irrevocable letter of credit or deposit before being licensed;
  • Recruiters and employers are jointly and severally liable for any and all exploitative recruitment practices in Canada and abroad;
  • Employers are prohibited from charging any fees to migrant workers and that the onus of fee non-payment be on the recruiter, not the migrant worker;
  • The time limit on complaints be at least five years so that workers can seek justice after their contracts finish;
  • All migrant workers coming in to Ontario have access to full immigration status, access to social benefits, protections from reprisals and meaningful labour protections.

Maintaining the value of the minimum wage

For the past four years, the minimum wage has been frozen at $10.25. Meanwhile, the real value of minimum wage has been eroded by rising costs.

  • Bill 165 increases the minimum wage by the rate of inflation each year and sets up a process for reviewing the minimum wage every five years.

We can strengthen Bill 165 by ensuring that:

  • The minimum wage brings full-time workers 10% above the poverty line and be assessed regularly against this criterion; and
  • Reviews of the minimum wage be every two years, instead of every five years;
  • All minimum wage provisions apply to all workers, regardless of their age or occupation, or their student or citizenship status.

Regulating temporary agencies (temp agencies)

Temp agency workers typically earn 40% less than their co-workers hired directly by the company. Agency workers receive less pay, fewer or no benefits, little protection against employment rights violations and no protection against termination. Despite their temporary status, agency workers often work for months and years beside workers doing exactly the same work.

  • Bill 146 makes temp agencies and the client company jointly responsible for paying workers’ unpaid wages and overtime pay;
  • Bill 146 ensures the client company is responsible for workplace injury and accident costs involving agency workers;
  • Bill 159 stipulates that agency workers must receive 80% of the total wages [SS2] paid by the client company to the temp agency.
  • Bill 159 limits the proportion of agency workers in a company’s workforce to no more than 25%; small businesses are exempted from this provision;
  • Bill 159 obligates all temp agencies to have a license to operate in Ontario;

We can strengthen Bills 146 and 159 by ensuring that:

  • Temp agencies workers receive the same wages and working conditions afforded to workers hired directly by the client company.
  • Client companies are jointly responsible for all monetary and non-monetary entitlements under the ESA, not just wages and overtime.
  • Section 74.8(1)* is repealed to eliminate provisions by which client companies are prevented from hiring temp agency workers directly.
  • Temp agency workers are hired directly by the client company after a certain period of time and are protected from unfair dismissals by either the temp agency or the client company.

Curbing wage theft

All too often, Ontario workers work hard but don’t get paid. This is wage theft. A recent Workers’ Action Centre survey found that 1 in 3 workers in low wage, precarious jobs experienced wage theft in the last 5 years. Wage theft takes the form of unpaid wages, unpaid vacation pay or overtime pay as well as employers’ misclassification of employees as independent contractors. Interns – even those who are paid – are also vulnerable to wage theft. Within the hospitality sector, employers who withhold tips and gratuities from their employees or who require their employees to forfeit their tips and gratuities are engaging in wage theft.

  • Bill 146 extends the time limits for workers claim unpaid wages from 6 months to 2 years
  • Bill 146 eliminates the inadequate $10,000 limit on the amount of unpaid wages that can be claimed;
  • Bill 146 requires employers to provide each employee with a poster on their rights under the Employment Standards Act and, if requested, requires the employer to provide translated versions of the poster;
  • Bill 146 sets out new rules for employer self-audits;
  • Bill 49 prohibits employers from forcing employees to forfeit their tips and gratuities; and
  • Bill 170 asserts that individuals receiving training be protected by certain provisions of the Employment Standards Act.

We can strengthen Bill 146 by ensuring that:

  • Time limits for filing claims are extended to five years for migrant workers;
  • The onus is on the employer – not the worker – for providing translations of the employee rights poster;
  • The provision to provide an employee rights poster should come into effect immediately;
  • The elimination of the monetary cap and the extension of time limits on unpaid wage claims come into effect immediately upon passage of Bill 146.

Having a voice at work

More people are finding themselves in part-time, contract work, often juggling two or three jobs. By making it easier for us to join unions and work together to improve wages and working conditions, we are better able to turn bad jobs into better ones.

  • Bill 129 brings forward a number of important changes that would make it easier for us to form unions and have a voice at work.

Take action!

Although some of these bills need important changes to ensure we all have the strongest protection possible, these bills provide us with an opportunity we have not seen in a long time. By working together to get these bills strengthened and passed, we can lay the groundwork for decent work and decent lives for all of us.

That’s why we are calling on you to help get these bills strengthened and passed before the legislature adjourns for the summer – or for an election.

Can you join us and help us get these bills strengthened and passed?

  1. Click here now to send a message to your MPP.
  2. Organize an action in your community on April 14th – a provincial day of action for decent pay and decent work.
  3. Call us or email us to find out how you can make a deputation to a legislative committee – coordinator@migrantworkersalliance.org
  4. Find out more about the issues:

New bill pushes government for better protections of temp agency workers
What’s in Bill 146?
New bill to index minimum wage to cost of living
Migrant workers respond to proposed Ontario law
Towards a Fair Ontario Immigration Act

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.