Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

3rd Session, 40th Parliament,
Volume 147, Issue 72

Wednesday, December 1, 2010
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

Migrant Workers

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak about the rights of thousands of migrant workers in Canada who work under our Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Just last week, I hosted a workshop that shed light on this important issue. This workshop was facilitated by Dr. Kerry Preiebisch and Ms. Evelyn Encalada. There it was brought to our attention that over 130 temporary migrant agricultural workers in Simcoe, Ontario, were dismissed from their jobs and sent home to Mexico and the Caribbean. Each of these workers was owed over $1,000 in unpaid wages. When journalists and migrant rights advocates investigated the wage dispute, they found deplorable living conditions, including unheated, overcrowded bunkhouses and leaking sewage.

These men worked hard to provide for their families back home. They worked up to 12 hours a day, seven days a week for minimum wage. These adult men fought back tears as they told their stories of being unable to buy their children Christmas presents or even to feed their families in the absence of their expected wages.

Since migrant workers are forced to return home when their contracts end, or in this case when their contracts are broken, they cannot seek legal redress on Canadian soil. Even though each of the Simcoe workers paid hundreds of dollars in EI contributions this year, they cannot collect Employment Insurance benefits now that they have lost their jobs. Therefore, these men were forced to return to their homes this week empty-handed and with broken spirits.

Honourable senators, injustices such as these happen across our country every single day. The rights and dignity of migrant workers are violated routinely because there is no legislation in place to systemically monitor employers and labour recruiters. These workers would go to great lengths to protect their opportunity to work in Canada, which is why they do not complain when they are refused health and safety training or equipment.

Many seasonal agricultural workers have worked hard for over four decades to put food on our tables and to sustain our vital agricultural industry. Despite the fact that they have spent more than half of their lives in our country, we offer them neither a chance to become permanent residents nor migrant support services.

Honourable senators, it is time for Canada to create protections for and to grant rights to all 300,000 temporary migrant workers who work in Canada under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. It is time for the creation of an independent regulatory body, a migrant worker commission that can investigate and address the challenges of Canada’s labour migration programs and protect Canada’s legacy as a fair and just society.

We nourish ourselves with the food they produce; now we have to start protecting migrant workers’ rights.