Former migrant worker demands an end to
Canada’s system of labour apartheid
June 3, Saskatoon — Immigration Minister John McCallum will be in Saskatoon this weekend to participate in a consultation with the Canadian Council for Refugees, but he will not attend Sunday’s National Forum on Migrant Worker Issues. McCallum’s visit comes at a time when Canada’s migrant worker programs are currently under review by the Liberal government.
Like the Harper regime, the Trudeau administration continues to exclude migrant workers from any meaningful participation in assessing legislation that directly affects their lives and livelihood. Not many voices of workers have been heard in the House of Commons, and the review will only make non-binding recommendations, likely allowing for the perpetuation of the structures that create precarity for hundreds of thousands of migrants.
Last month, a migrant worker from Jamaica, Sheldon McKenzie, died after he was denied medical care. Recent reports point to growing precarity under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), as it more quickly disposes of workers through the enforcement of the “four in and four out” rule. This measures forces them to leave Canada after four years of work, blocking them from returning for another four years. The measure excludes migrants from jobs that some have worked for decades and creates additional barriers for organizing for better conditions, while leaving many indebted from exorbitant fees paid to recruiters.
Meanwhile, migrant workers remain tied to a single employer and many are denied access to permanent residency no matter how many years they have worked alongside Canadians. They are vulnerable to detention and deportation at any time, with little to no access to labour protections or the benefits that they pay into. And they frequently experience social isolation, with many being cut off from ordinary Canadians except when they come into town to shop for groceries once a week.
Former migrant worker Noé Arteaga Santos says: “People should be treated like human beings. Why have a specific set of laws that deny a particular group of people basic human rights? Everyone should have access to the same basic protections. Everyone should be treated with respect and dignity.”
“Canada has created the laws that have allowed for the exploitation of migrants in the first place. It is time that the government becomes accountable to migrant workers and ends this system of labour apartheid.”
Arteaga is a member of the Montreal-based migrant justice group Solidarity Across Borders, which has declared June 2016 to be a “Month Against Borders and Deportations” to highlight the violence caused by Canada’s immigration system.
“Canada’s immigration system ensures that Canadian capital profits not only from migrant workers, but also from refugees and undocumented migrants,” says Arteaga. “I intend to speak directly to Minister McCallum in order to denounce the violent ways that the Canadian government exploits those who enter its colonial borders.”
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 Although Employment Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk is overseeing the review itself, the minister of immigration ultimately has the power over who remains in Canada and under what terms. Part of the precarity of the temporary foreign worker program is that it is divided between different government bodies and the private sector, creating serpentine structures that leave ample space for a lack of accountability to workers.