Yesterday, the Metcalf Foundation released an insightful report on the legislation governing migrant workers in Canada. The report’s starting point is that legal regulation of work can either create conditions of decent work and security or conditions of insecurity and exploitation.
The report’s author, Fay Faraday, breaks the labour migration cycle into 6 steps from recruitment through to repatriation or permanent residence. She clearly demonstrates how Canadian and Ontario legislation results in systemic exploitation and rights violations at each stage of the process, from exorbitant fees required by recruiters to unpaid wages and hazardous working conditions to barriers to permanent status. She also outlines a series of recommendations that will build effective protections, from more proactive enforcement to workers of all skill levels being able to apply to immigrate permanently to Canada.
It is well established that migrant workers are overrepresented in dangerous industries and in hazardous jobs, occupations and tasks, and this has important health impacts. Research shows that immigrant workers are at high risk for occupational injuries, diseases and death. A recent CMAJ article on the health of migrant workers in Canada outlined the wide range of health risks that they face. The evidence shows that migrant workers are healthier than others when they arrive. Their living and working conditions in Canada, including the lack of enforcement along with enforceable rights at work contribute to deteriorating health.
Exploitation and rights violations of migrant workers are a concern. But the harmful effects of a growing and highly exploitable labour force in Canada are not limited only to these workers. The lack of enforcement of workplace rights and workplace laws that are unenforceable have negative impacts on all marginalized workers in Canada, both those with and without permanent status.