Canada’s unions calling for greater protections and supports for migrant workers

December 17, 2021

Canada’s unions are marking International Migrants Day by calling for improved conditions for migrant workers in this country, particularly in the face of the ongoing climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The recent state of emergency in British Columbia (BC) is the latest example of the clear and increasingly disastrous impacts of our global climate crisis. Communities across the province experienced flooding, mudslides and extreme weather, leaving residents displaced or stranded. This extreme weather came after a summer of catastrophic forest fires in BC, causing untold distress for residents, including migrant workers living and working temporarily in the province.

“These events further exposed the magnitude of the climate emergency upon us. But they also underscored just how vulnerable migrant workers are in Canada, most without access to proper protections and supports” said Bea Bruske, President of the Canadian Labour Congress. “Like other workers, migrant workers in Canada should have social protections, labour rights and full access to healthcare services.”

Furthermore, Canada’s unions continue to urge the federal government to provide a pathway to permanent residency for those workers who want it, and to end the closed work permit system which ties migrant workers to one employer and replace it with open work permits.

Climate change continues to be a considerable driver of migration worldwide, and as our global climate crisis worsens, the number of climate migrants – people who are displaced from their homes due to the effects of climate change – will only increase.

During the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the World Health Organization (WHO), and Lancet Migration urged all nations to make community-led interventions addressing the issue of migration as a result of climate change a priority, and to urgently strengthen services and systems for migrants.

In Canada, migrant workers are already a particularly vulnerable population when it comes to navigating major social and economic crises – like the climate crisis or the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. They face barriers to accessing critical social services, including health care and employment insurance, as well as worker protections, all due to immigration status. Their precarious status may also affect their ability to find employment if displaced or if these workers lose their jobs.

A new report from Canada’s Auditor General also demonstrates that the government checks and balances meant to protect the wellbeing of these workers are not working. The report, which reviewed inspections carried out by the department responsible for assessing the pandemic protections for temporary foreign workers, shows government failure to protect migrant workers in Canada’s agricultural sector. The report showed problems in almost three quarters of quarantine inspections assessed during the course of the study.

“Without comprehensive worker and social protections to safeguard against employer exploitation, mistreatment, abuse and discriminatory workplace policies, the safety and lives of migrant workers are being repeatedly put a risk,” said Bruske. “Migrant workers have played an essential part in keeping our communities cared for throughout the pandemic, and like all workers, deserve justice and a fair future.”

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