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Migrant workers still among the most vulnerable




Hamutal Dotan

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Our economy relies on several categories of workers: citizens, permanent residents, and workers here under various classes of visas.

One group that historically faces some of the greatest challenges is the category of temporary migrant workers—a group that has more than tripled in recent years. In 2000, there were 89,746 migrant workers in Canada; in 2012, that number was 338,213.

Temporary migrant workers are now admitted to the country at a much greater rate than permanent residents—the inverse of what was the case decades ago. This pattern holds locally, as well. the number of migrant workers in Toronto increased by 237 per cent between 2006 and 2012.

A new report just released by the Metcalfe Foundation, which works towards building a more equitable and inclusive society in Canada, examines the current state of affairs for migrant workers here. A hint of its findings can be gleaned just from the title: "Profiting from the Precarious."

The report gathered information via interviews and consultations with migrant workers in Toronto and Southern Ontario, and focuses on the growing for-profit labour recruitment industry, which helps match potential workers with employers, and assists those workers as they manage the bureaucratic processes involved in coming here.

The problem: according to the report, "widespread abuse of low-wage migrant workers at the hands of disreputable recruiters has been documented by academic and community-based researchers for years. Significant numbers of migrant workers are brought to Canada by recruiters who charge oppressive 'recruitment fees,' including fees for jobs that do not exist and jobs that are different than promised."

Though some legislation took effect in 2010 to try to provide better protection for migrant workers, the report found that "a mere $12,100 in illegal fees has been recovered from recruiters and only eight investigations are ongoing. Meanwhile, the Caregivers’ Action Centre reports that since the law was enacted, two-thirds of its members have been charged illegal recruitment fees."

The report provides a number of recommendations to help improve matters.

"A proactive regulatory model that is enforced by the employment standards branch and that builds in federal/provincial multidirectional oversight is both necessary and a best practice." Crucially, it goes on, "proactive licensing of recruiters, registration of employers, and significant security deposits to ensure that funds are available to compensate workers whose rights have been violated."

There is also the question of giving potential migrant workers better tools to make informed decisions about their employment here. New regulars must "address the significant information gap that recruiters and employers exploit. Registries with meaningful information about recruiters, recruiters’ supply chains, and employers must be publicly available and easily accessible. Information empowers workers."

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Profiting from the Precarious (Metcalfe Foundation Report)


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