The United Nations has raised concerns about the treatment of migrant workers in Canada and called on the Canadian government to ensure their rights are protected. The UN special rapporteur for contemporary forms of slavery, Tomoya Obokata, expressed his deep concern over the exploitation and abuse faced by migrant workers under Canada’s temporary foreign worker program.
During a two-week fact-finding visit to Canada, Obokata heard accounts of exploitation and abuse from migrant workers. He highlighted the vulnerability of these workers due to employee-specific work permit regimes, including certain Temporary Foreign Worker Programs (TFWPs). The fear of deportation prevents them from reporting abuses.
Canada’s controversial temporary foreign worker program allows between 50,000 to 60,000 foreign laborers to enter the country each year. However, the program has long faced accusations of systemic exploitation, particularly in sectors like agriculture and meat processing. Migrant workers in these sectors have complained about sub-standard working conditions and limited options to address instances of abuse.
The UN investigation comes after a group of Jamaican farm-workers wrote a letter to their country’s labor minister, describing their work in Ontario farms as “systemic slavery.” The workers detailed their exposure to dangerous pesticides without proper protection and verbal abuse from their bosses.
Canada’s foreign worker scheme allows employers to hire laborers from Mexico and eleven Caribbean nations for up to eight months per year. In response, Obokata called for Canada to provide a clear pathway to permanent residency for all migrants to prevent future abuses. He emphasized that these foreign workers possess valuable skills that are critical to the Canadian economy and urged lawmakers to enact legislation to protect their rights.
The concerns raised by the UN rapporteur are supported by a 2014 study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal Open. The study reported that 787 migrant farm workers in Ontario were repatriated to their home countries due to work-related injuries. Some of these workers were not given sufficient notice and were denied access to medical treatment.
In light of these findings, the United Nations is urging the Canadian government to take immediate action to address the exploitation and abuse faced by migrant workers. The protection of their rights and the provision of a clear pathway to permanent residency is crucial to preventing the recurrence of such abuses.
It is important for Canada to ensure that its temporary foreign worker program upholds the principles of fairness, dignity, and respect for all workers. Migrant workers make significant contributions to the Canadian economy and society, and it is essential to recognize and protect their rights. By implementing effective measures to safeguard the rights of migrant workers, Canada can set an example for other nations and promote a global standard for the fair treatment of all workers, regardless of their nationality or immigration status.