According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), 21 million people worldwide are currently victims of forced labour. These ongoing human rights violations generate illegal profits of $150 billion (US) per year. Migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to becoming victims of forced labour.
In November 2014, the Confederation of Canadian Unions (CCU) released the position paper Statements and Recommendations on Migrant Workers in Canada. The main themes of the paper were to demand the free industrial mobility of all migrant workers in Canada, regulatory schemes to protect the rights of migrant workers, and for Canada to ratify and live up to its obligations on all ILO Conventions and Protocols designed to protect the rights of migrant workers.
Recently, the Global Union Movement has been calling on all governments to ratify the ILO’s 2014 Protocol on The Forced Labour Convention of 1930 (No. 29). The CCU unreservedly supports the position that the government of Canada and all ILO member states should ratify and implement this protocol without delay.
We are also supportive of the recent demand from Justica for Migrant Workers that the government of Canada extend permanent residency status to workers participating in the Temporary Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program.
It is time for the Canadian government to reverse fifty years of flawed and discriminatory policy regarding the rights of migrant workers. The current scheme requires that workers are tied to specific employers and subject to deportation if they are dismissed or withdraw their services. It is the positon of the CCU that this results in situations where migrant workers are subject to abuses of human rights that amount to forced labour contrary to international law.
Canada can, and must, do better. Our programs dealing with migrant workers must be reviewed and amended with a focus on human rights and equality as opposed to solely on work arrangements that are profitable to employers at the expense of the basic and fundamental rights of workers.
* The above article has been sent in the form of a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and copied to the Federal Minister of Employment, Workforce, and Labour, MaryAnn Mihychuk.