Migrante Canada on the Federal Canadian Elections: Rights and Welfare of Migrants and Migrant Workers
As Canadian citizens prepare to cast their votes this September, candidates running for seats in the federal government are making campaign promises, both new and rehashed. Across political parties, politicians dish out empty multicultural rhetoric to our kababayan, the Filipino community which constitutes the fourth largest visible minority in Canada.
There are 1.6 million migrant workers in Canada with a significant number, especially caregivers, coming from the Philippines, one of the top sending countries of migrant workers to Canada. The continuing COVID-19 pandemic has exposed not only the essential and frontline work provided by migrant workers, women, and racialized communities, but also the unfair and unjust working conditions of these vulnerable and precarious workers. Many of these workers are underpaid, overworked, are unable or find it difficult to access basic services and emergency benefits. Many fall prey to unscrupulous recruitment agencies and immigration consultants, live under harsh living arrangements and exploitative working conditions, and risk their health and lives to provide the services that keep the Canadian economy going.
Migrante Canada and its member organizations take the position that the migration of Filipinos abroad is a product of the extreme socio-economic, political, and health crises in the Philippines. The commodification of Filipino labour is encouraged by the Philippine government’s labour export policy and the Canadian government’s need to fill in the labour gap. The dismal economic opportunities at home forces many Filipinos to seek employment abroad in host countries such as Canada. The Philippine government itself treats overseas Filipino workers as cash cows under the Labour Export Program and through various forms of state exactions (e.g. mandatory PhilHealth membership). Meanwhile, in Canada, they are treated as cheap and disposable labour, face discrimination and are not afforded basic rights and protection.
Migrant worker programs are federal programs that were created many decades ago to fill a permanent labour need in society by using “guest workers”. These programs bring in thousands of seasonal agricultural workers, greenhouse workers, caregivers for children, the sick, and elderly every year. Limited regularization programs, inadequate immigration streams, and discriminatory policies such as stringent language and education requirements are barriers that make the government “pathways” to permanent resident status elusive. These federal programs have been criticized again and again because workers have been abused, trafficked, unjustly treated and dismissed, and deported. Canada’s tiered immigration system program has created a set of workers that have fewer or no rights, are temporary, invisible, and disposable.
When elected, will these candidates push Canada to sign off on two major international conventions on migrant workers’ rights: the UN International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (adopted in 1990) and the landmark International Convention on Domestic Workers* (adopted in 2011) which states that domestic workers around the world must have the same basic labour rights as other employees?
Regardless of who wins in the federal election, we will continue to raise the issues of migrant workers and their families, launch campaigns, and make gains for workers. We will continue to build a robust anti-imperialist movement to expose and challenge Canada’s role in the plunder of natural resources, displacement of people, and exploitation of cheap, disposable labor from the Global South through neoliberal schemes such as the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
Migrante Canada will continue to arouse, organize and mobilize migrant workers and our communities, forge solidarity with other racialized workers, and strengthen alliances with trade unions. We will continue to fight for the rights and welfare of migrant workers and support full and permanent immigration status for all. We will continue to demand for rights as workers, more so during the pandemic, such as the paid sick leave across the country. For migrant workers, caregivers most especially, they cannot access sick time during the first 90 days of their employment in Canada. It is undeniable that our voices can no longer be ignored.
September 15, 2021
FOR REFERENCE: Stef Martin Secretary-General, Migrante Canada
*International Labour Office, Convention No. 189 Decent Work for Domestic Workers (https://www.ilo.org/.../docum.../publication/wcms_161104.pdf)