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Protestors Call for Action on Migrant Worker Rights

Activists demand an end to the federal government's moratorium on temporary foreign workers in the restaurant and food industry.

Photo by Migrant Workers Alliance.

At a protest held this afternoon, migrant justice and labour organizers demanded an end to the federal government’s moratorium on temporary foreign workers in the restaurant and food industry. About 40 protestors gathered in front of the offices of Restaurants Canada, a major food service advocacy group, to denounce what they described as punitive and unequal treatment of Canada’s migrant workers.

Perry Sorio of Migrante, a provincial migrant rights group, said the recent government moratorium on foreign workers in the food sector would not address program abuses, such as the alleged exploitation of migrant workers by their employers. “The moratorium punishes the migrant workers more than it protects them,” Sorio said. He called on Ottawa to introduce permanent resident status for all migrant workers. “There is no other way to build this country,” said Sorio.

Federal employment minister Jason Kenney announced the moratorium in April after a C.D. Howe Institute report claimed the program was fuelling unemployment in western Canada. While the ministry established a hotline for Canadians to report perceived harms created by the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program, it remained silent about allegations that workers were being abused. Kenney is expected to announce reforms to the TFW program tomorrow.

Demonstrators called for several reforms, including full access to health care, employment insurance and education for migrant workers, an end to the practice of tying migrant workers to a specific employer, an end to the hefty recruitment fees migrants often pay Canadian consultants to find work in Canada, and an end to the deportation of migrant workers who speak out about poor working conditions.

Syed Hussan of No One Is Illegal said the public backlash against migrant workers does not apply to the tens of thousands of white foreign workers from Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. “This is about racialized people—we need to put race at the centre of this discussion,” Hussan said. He added that government reforms intended to protect jobs for Canadians ought to apply to all workers. “If you want to protect jobs for everybody, you can start by raising the minimum wage, by making health care better, by giving all people good housing.”

Joyce Reynolds, Restaurants Canada’s vice-president of government affairs, told us that she shares the advocates’ desire for an end to the moratorium and a pathway to citizenship for migrant workers. “We’re an industry that was built by immigrants to this country,” said Reynolds. She warned that the moratorium has had negative consequences on businesses that count on the TFW program for labour.

Reynolds also argued that because labour needs vary greatly across the country, unemployment in one region or province does not negate the need for migrant workers. “People who are unemployed in Toronto are not able or willing to go to western Canada, where we desperately need people,” said Reynolds.

CUPE Local 4308 president Kelly O’Sullivan said the widespread use of temporary labour signals that Canada’s immigration system is broken. “Let’s set up a system where we have rights for all workers, regardless of their status,” O’Sullivan said to cheers. “It’s not a lot to ask for.”

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