Federal government must take immediate action to protect migrant workers from COVID-19
The Auditor General released a scathing report yesterday on the alarming lack of protective measures for migrant agricultural workers in Canada. The findings of the report verified the concerns that Canada’s unions have raised repeatedly since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
“We owe a debt of gratitude to the more than 79,000 workers migrant workers who have been essential in providing us with food security throughout the pandemic,” said Bea Bruske, President of the Canadian Labour Congress. “Migrant workers are especially vulnerable to the pandemic, and Canada’s unions continue to urge the federal government to take immediate action to keep these workers safe and protected.”
Going forward, the health and safety of migrant workers must be central to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). Canada’s unions have repeatedly called for more comprehensive oversight of the TFWP by the federal government, and increased on-site inspections.
Despite an additional $16.2 million in funding to improve government inspections, inadequate oversight of quarantines, outbreaks and basic living conditions continue to put migrant workers’ health and safety at great risk. Inspection standards must be greatly improved to ensure that migrant workers’ lives are no longer in danger.
“Migrant workers deserve justice and fairness. It’s time for the government to make real improvements to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and to dismantle the existing imbalance that currently makes migrant workers extremely vulnerable,” said Bruske.
Canada’s unions continue to call on the government to:
• Significantly improve federal government oversight of the TFWP, and increase the number of unannounced on-site inspections of agriculture and agri-food operations using the TFWP;
• Replace the closed employer-specific work permit system with open work permits for migrant workers;
• Provide opportunities for migrant workers, especially low-wage workers to permanently immigrate to Canada, including the removal of barriers that are deterrents to successful immigration for migrant workers;
• Ensure full access to healthcare services for migrant workers;
• Increase labour rights and social protections for migrant workers;
• Restore migrant workers’ access to parental benefits and remove restrictions on migrants’ access to regular benefits; and
• Establish a tripartite task force of government, employers and labour to develop a broader labour force strategy and an implementation plan for the agriculture and agri-food sector including the consideration of the migrant workforce.
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