Migrant workers relocate from their countries of origin to foreign countries for work purposes. Migrant workers either move for work purposes on a temporary or a permanent basis, depending on several factors. Migrant labour has grown to become a significant issue globally, but it remains largely misunderstood in ways more than one. The growth of migrant workers is increasing, especially in regions such as the United States, Canada, and European countries like Germany, England, Italy, and France. This growth of migrant workers in these developed countries has sparked heated debate, especially regarding wage suppression and the idea that foreign workers are stealing jobs from citizens. However, while those in disfavour of migrant workers continue to protest against their disruption of the labour industry and those in favour of hiring foreign workers continue with their practices, people often fail to put themselves in the shoes of migrant workers and their experiences. The perspective of migrant workers is often overlooked to the extent that migrant workers end up forgotten and left to struggle. This is a situation that has been highlighted here in Canada by Choudry & Smith (2016) in their research regarding the struggles of migrant and immigrant workers. Hence, it is important to assess some of the common struggles experienced by migrant workers in general and in Canada alongside some of the actions in place to cater to their needs and what more can be done to help these workers in various settings.
Struggles of migrant workers in Canada
Some of the common struggles experienced by migrant workers can be summed up into discrimination, exploitation, coercion, the lack of benefits, dangerous working conditions, cultural differences, education-related issues and access to residence, services and healthcare (Choudry & Thomas, 2013; Choudry & Henaway, 2012; Choudry & Smith, 2016). These issues vary depending on a variety of factors. For instance, Tyler & Marciniak (2013) highlight some of the issues experienced by undocumented immigrant workers regarding the lack of better welfare, exploitation, coercion, and access to services. Undocumented workers lack the proper documentation to keep them in the countries they move to. Their constant threat of deportation places them at a disadvantage, allowing employees and other institutions to take advantage of their predicament. On the other hand, documented workers also face significant struggles. Migrant workers are likely to be impacted by the cultural differences in the regions that they move to, alongside facing constant discrimination both at the workplace and outside work (Choudry & Smith, 2016). Sometimes migrant workers live in isolation, whether they are documented or not, because they feel unaccepted. These issues are aggravated, especially by aspects such as cultural differences, language barriers and the fact that these people have a hard time understanding how the system works in the regions where they work. For instance, handling leases and taxes are common issues that migrant workers have been struggling to grasp when they move to regions that operate differently from their native countries (Hudson et al., 2011).
As mentioned earlier, the struggles of migrant workers vary depending on a plethora of factors, such as the regions that they move to work. In Canada, the struggles of migrant workers can mainly be attributed to Canada’s new policy that mainly promotes temporary migration rather than the permanent migration of workers (Canadian Council for Refugees, 2021). Due to the enactment of this policy, migrant workers find themselves at a disadvantage when they come to work in Canada temporarily because they are stripped of certain rights and privileges alongside being awarded limited access to certain services and the denial of federally-funded settlement services (Choudry & Henaway, 2012; Chourdy & Smith, 2016). Furthermore, the vulnerability of these migrant workers is extended by the fact that there are no systems in place directed towards monitoring them and ensuring that their rights are protected (Canadian Council for Refugees, 2021; Foster & Luciano, 2020). Only a few provinces in Canada have enacted the relevant legislations that are directed towards protecting the rights of migrant workers.
Therefore, a lot of migrant workers in Canada have been in situations where they get economically exploited. For instance, migrant workers are often charged illegal recruitment fees, and some get subjected to wage theft (Choudry & Smith, 2016). The fact that these people have no systems to protect them also means that they remain dependent on their employers when they require access to services such as housing, healthcare and information regarding their basic rights. These issues mainly face migrant workers working in Canada temporarily because of their visa conditions (Canadian Council for Refugees, 2021). It has also been noted that certain migrant workers in Canada operating under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program find themselves falling victim to human trafficking. According to the Canadian Council for Refugees, several cases of exploitation and abuse of migrant workers have been reported, but little recourse has been offered to these workers. Furthermore, workers who report being abused and exploited often end up getting fired or deported (Choudry & Smith, 2016; Marsden et al., 2020). Thus, migrant workers are in a predicament regarding their rights as temporary residents in Canada. This issue is rampant mainly with low-skill and low-wage workers who have constantly found it harder to gain permanent residence than highly skilled employees who appear to be treated differently even if they are working temporarily (Canadian Council for Refugees, 2021). Low-skilled workers will also find it difficult to get permanent migration status as the only offer that they can receive is temporary migration, especially for marginalized groups.
Overall, it appears that the struggles faced by migrant workers point out to a change in Canada’s notion of immigration as a nation-building strategy and highlights a change in this premise towards the exploitation of low-skilled temporary migrants as the perfect source of cheap and disposable labour. The contributions that these migrant workers are making to the Canadian economy and society, regardless of the type of work they are doing, are being ignored, and change is necessary to safeguard the right of migrant workers, especially those working under the Temporary Foreign Worker Programs.
Approaches to strengthening the rights of migrant workers
With Canada Switching its focus on temporary rather than permanent migration for workers, this policy has created a loophole that has resulted in migrant workers being exploited without proper systems to protect their rights. The government of Canada has highlighted the rights that temporary foreign workers should be awarded while in the country. However, the biggest problem is the lack of proper systems to ensure that these rights are protected, especially when it comes to temporary migrant workers. These people are getting exploited and abused because of the loopholes surrounding the issues they face because of their visa status. According to the Canadian Council for Refugees, the best approach in protecting the rights of migrant workers is to dismantle or re-evaluate and rewrite the policy on temporary migration. The emphasis on temporary migration and not permanent migration is not a good policy when it comes to protecting the rights of migrant workers (Canadian Council for Refugees, 2021). The policy is doing a great job in terms of addressing the issue of temporary labour shortages, but it does not guarantee the safety of these temporary migrant workers. Considering that these people are only in the country temporarily, they cannot be awarded full rights similar to permanent residents, and this leaves them without the full protection of their rights and vulnerable to exploitation by employers willing to leverage their temporary employment status and half rights to their advantage.
Instead, in order to protect the rights of migrant workers, Canada should focus more on awarding migrant employees with permanent migrant status. This will require the re-orientation of the country’s immigration program and policies that will allow the country to focus on bringing in immigrants and refugees on a permanent status (Canadian Council for Refugees, 2021). However, suppose this cannot be done, especially considering the processes that need to take place before such changes can be enacted. In that case, there are other ways of improving the rights and safeguarding the wellbeing of temporary migrant employees. According to the Canadian Council for Refugees (2021), the first step is the ratification of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and their Family Members. For instance, providing temporary workers with expansions in their eligibility to settlement services is a good measure to prevent them from getting exploited. These workers should be fully informed of their rights once they reach the country, and effective recourse to justice should also be awarded instead of deporting temporary workers without proper investigations into their issues.
Overall, taking the necessary steps to safeguard the rights of immigrant workers will be a long process. However, taking small steps to ensure that these people are protected will be significant in ensuring that, in the end, the rights of migrant workers are protected, especially concerning temporary migrant workers. Furthermore, the best option will be to reduce the focus on temporary migration and switch to providing migrant workers with permanent migration status.
Canadian Council for Refugees. (2021). Migrant Workers – the issues. Canadian Council for Refugees. Retrieved 15 December 2021, from https://ccrweb.ca/en/migrant-workers-issues.
Canadian Council for Refugees. (2021). Protecting the rights of migrant workers in Canada. Canadian Council for Refugees. Retrieved 15 December 2021, from https://ccrweb.ca/en/protecting-rights-migrant-workers-canada.
Choudry, A., & Henaway, M. (2012). Agents of misfortune: Contextualizing migrant and immigrant workers’ struggles against temporary labour recruitment agencies. Labour, Capital and Society/Travail, capital et société, 36-65.
Choudry, A., & Smith, A. A. (Eds.). (2016). Unfree labour?: Struggles of migrant and immigrant workers in Canada. PM Press.
Choudry, A., & Thomas, M. (2013). Labour struggles for workplace justice: Migrant and immigrant worker organizing in Canada. Journal Of Industrial Relations, 55(2), 212-226. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022185612473215
Foster, J., & Luciano, M. (2020). In the Shadows: Living and Working Without Status in Alberta. Parkland Institute, University of Alberta.
Hudson, M., Radu, D., & Phillips, J. (2011). European migrant workers’ understanding and experience of the tax credits system.
Marsden, S., Tucker, E., & Vosko, L. (2020). Federal Enforcement of Migrant Workers’ Labour Rights in Canada: A Research Report. SSRN Electronic Journal. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3601870
Tyler, I., & Marciniak, K. (2013). Immigrant protest: an introduction. Citizenship Studies, 17(2), 143-156. https://doi.org/10.1080/13621025.2013.780728