Immigration Minister Marc Miller is looking to reform Canada’s closed work permit after a United Nations special rapporteur’s claim about some of Canada’s temporary workers being “vulnerable to contemporary forms of slavery”.
Tomoya Obokata, UN special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, visited Canada in August and September, following which he expressed that “the agricultural and low-wage streams of the Temporary Foreign Workers Programme (TFWP) constitute a breeding ground” for the exploitation of migrants by tying their right to work in Canada to a single employer.
Obokata’s end-of-mission statement said he is “disturbed by the fact that certain categories of migrant workers are made vulnerable to contemporary forms of slavery in Canada by the policies that regulate their immigration status, employment and housing in Canada.”
The fact that they would lose their immigration status if they change roles “creates a dependency relationship between employers and employees, making the latter vulnerable to exploitation.”
The role of the special rapporteur was created in 2007 by the UN, its mandate being to investigate and being a voice against forced or coerced labor, according to CBC.
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Obokata’s comments mirrored those of Jamaican migrant workers who described their working conditions in Ontario as “systematic slavery.” Although a report by the Jamaican labour ministry confirmed issues with the TFWP, the conclusion did not describe the situation as ”slave-like.”
Marc Miller was grilled with questions regarding this issue at the Commons immigration committee on Tuesday, according to the Globe and Mail, respondent to which he said that he was looking for ways to prevent abuse of migrant workers, including relaxing rules that make it hard for some to switch jobs.
He expressed his willingness to examine “a more open form, a more regional form of permit” that would ease certain restrictions on temporary workers.
This would be relevant to agricultural jobs, for example – a field that Obokata highlighted as especially vulnerable to worker exploitation.
Miller, however, also expressed his disagreement with Obokata’s comparison between the closed work permit and slavery. He also said that a majority of farmers and employers put in a lot of money and time to bring in temporary foreign workers, whom they treat “like their family in their own words.”
However, he agreed that bad apples exist and need to be stamped out.
“If there has been one bad actor, we’ve got to crack down on it – we’re Canada.”
He also highlighted that some cases he encountered were very disturbing, owing to which change is requisite. He wants to allow vulnerable workers with employer-specific jobs to change roles faster.
The committee meeting saw NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan saying that action was long overdue and workers under this permit often failed to speak up owing to fears of losing their jobs and being deported.
When questioned by her on whether temporary workers should be given a direct path to permanent residence, Miller said that his government was considering such a route for construction workers. However, he does not believe that all temporary workers should have an automatic route to citizenship, and neither does he believe in abolishing the closed work permit.
The Closed Work Permit
The closed work permit (also called the “employer-specific work permit) lets someone work in Canada according to the conditions on their work permit, such as:
- the name of the specific employer they can work for
- how long they can work
- the location where they can work (if applicable)
Before being able to apply for an employer-specific work permit, one’s employer must provide them
- a copy of their employment contract
- one of the following:
- a copy of a labour market impact assessment (LMIA)
- an offer of employment number (for LMIA-exempt workers)
- To get this number, their employer must use the Employer Portal.