Sat. Jun 22nd, 2024

Senators Present Report on Canada’s Migrant Labour Force

By Fatih Sahin May21,2024

Today, in Ottawa, members of the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science, and Technology convened a press conference to unveil their comprehensive report on Canada’s temporary and migrant labour force.

Senator Ratna Omidvar provided a historical context, highlighting that Canada’s reliance on foreign labour dates back 50 years when the federal government introduced measures allowing employers to bring in foreign workers temporarily to fill gaps in the workforce. Initially intended as a stop-gap measure, the program has since become a critical component of the Canadian labour market.

“Canada has become somewhat addicted to this source of labour,” Omidvar stated, emphasizing that the system has not evolved to ensure adequate protections for foreign workers or to streamline bureaucratic processes for employers. The senator pointed out that both workers and employers face significant challenges due to a fragmented system plagued by inefficiencies and lack of coordination.

The report’s key recommendation is the establishment of a Migrant Worker Commission, an independent, arms-length agency designed to coordinate policy and provide comprehensive support to both migrant workers and employers.

“With so many cooks in the kitchen, it is only logical to have a head chef,” Omidvar explained, underscoring the need for a unified approach to manage the complexities of migrant labour.

Senator Gigi Osler delved into the personal and systemic challenges faced by migrant workers. Highlighting the precarious nature of employer-specific work permits, Osler noted that such permits leave workers vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, akin to modern-day indentured servitude. The report calls for the exploration of sector or region-specific work permits as a more flexible and protective alternative.

Osler recounted testimonies from migrant workers who faced unsafe working conditions, wage theft, and abuse without the ability to seek recourse due to the restrictive nature of their work permits. She also pointed out the inefficacy of current inspection regimes, which are often pre-announced and thus fail to catch exploitative practices.

Despite these challenges, Osler also shared success stories of migrant workers who have found permanent homes and enriched their communities. During the committee’s fact-finding missions to New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, senators observed firsthand the positive impact of migrant workers on local economies and communities. Many businesses in these regions rely heavily on migrant labour, and workers have become integral members of their new communities. She, as an example, noted that the Atlantic region needs to retain 18,000 to 22,000 immigrants per year to meet projected labor market needs by 2030.

Senator René Cormier reinforced the need for a strategic and coordinated approach to migrant labour. He highlighted the essential role migrant workers play in sustaining industries and revitalizing rural areas, urging the federal government to act on the committee’s recommendations promptly.

In response to media questions, the senators addressed concerns about the federal government’s plans to reduce the number of temporary residents. Omidvar warned against knee-jerk reactions and emphasized the need for a planned approach that balances labour market needs with protections for workers.

The committee stressed the importance of timely implementation of their recommendations. The proposed Migrant Worker Commission would streamline processes, ensure compliance with health and safety standards, and provide a safe channel for workers to report abuses.

In conclusion, as Senator Omidvar stated, “We have everything to gain and much to lose if we do not act now.” The coming months will reveal how politicians and the public respond to these recommendations amid a complex and often contentious political landscape.

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