Employer/employee power imbalances should be addressed by new rules on migrant farm laborers
The Immigration and Refugee Protection Rules have recently been updated by the Canadian government to add new employer responsibilities. These changes are meant to strengthen migrant worker rights and maintain the integrity of the government’s program for temporary foreign employees.
Although a positive move, the modifications ignore the fundamental problems that make temporary foreign employees so susceptible to mistreatment in the first place.
The number of migrant laborers engaged in Canada’s agriculture sector increased by more than 61,000 in 2021, over 12% more than in 2020 and the highest number since 2016.
In reality, in 2021, migrant workers made up close to 25% of all agricultural employees.Many physical and psychological health concerns are present for migrant agricultural laborers in Canada, and these risks are exacerbated by their insecure living conditions.
According to our research, working conditions under Canada’s temporary foreign worker program pose serious risks to employees’ health, the defense of their rights, and even their survival.
Employees are employed under short-term contracts that obligate them to work only for one employer, and these contracts typically contain a repatriation clause that enables businesses to fire employees and deport them without having to follow a grievance procedure. Workers who are ill or injured are frequently sent back home before they can receive medical attention or workers’ compensation.
As a result, migrant workers frequently find themselves powerless to decline dangerous jobs and are reluctant to voice their health concerns or report instances of abuse.
The changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations acknowledge some of the difficulties faced by migrant workers in Canada, but they do not deal with the power disparities at the core of the temporary foreign worker program. In fact, they run the danger of making some of these systemic issues much worse.Migrant workers in Ontario are eligible for provincial health care, but they experience many barriers to accessing such services, in part because of a reliance on employers.
Under the new amendments, the government of Canada once again normalizes this role. Employers are obligated to cover the waiting period before provincial health care eligibility by providing private health insurance to migrant workers upon arrival.
By imbuing the responsibility of “reasonable access to health care services” to employers when a worker is injured or becomes ill at the workplace, the government is wilfully denying the power imbalance and obvious conflict of interest posed by such an arrangement.