What’s missing in media coverage of the new Auditor General report on the TFWP

Photo of Auditor General Michael Ferguson by Adrian Wyld, Canadian Press.

Michael Ferguson, Auditor General. Photo: Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press: http://bit.ly/2qgk5U1

On May 16th, Michael Ferguson, the Canadian Auditor General, released a new report on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). Much of the media coverage on the report has missed some key points. Some coverage has also risked pitting migrant workers against unemployed and marginalized residents of Canada, particularly Indigenous peoples.

To be clear, migrant workers do not lower wages or steal jobs. Inadequate wages, unemployment and a lack of employment equity occur because of specific state and capitalist policy choices. The absence of standards or enforcement is a policy choice, too. In the case of low-wage streams of the TFWP, governments create policies that allow capitalists (aka employers) to access racialized, unfree and deportable workers from the Majority World. Consequently, workers have weak workplace bargaining power and can’t easily demand better wages and working conditions.

In response to the report and mainstream media coverage, we suggest the following points and questions :

  • Growth of agricultural streams of the TFWP: While the number of migrant workers in other streams has decreased in recent years, agricultural migrant workers have skyrocketed
    • e.g. in 2014, there were 47,477 migrant worker positions approved in Primary Agriculture — this is a rough proxy for the number of migrant farm workers. In 2015, there were 53,303 positions approved.
  • Xenophobia: Media articles that frame migrant workers as stealing jobs from Canadians are dangerous, inaccurate and irresponsible. Worldwide, we have witnessed the alarming effects of fomenting xenophobic sentiment, and particularly in the wake of Brexit and the Trump election.
  • Decrease in # of ‘low-skilled’ migrant workers: The report cites a massive decrease in the number of ‘low-skilled’ workers following Conservative Party reforms to the TFWP.
    • What happened to these people? How many were deported, repatriated, are still here, transitioned to permanent residency, sought other forms of immigration status ie student, other occupation, refugee status, etc.?
  • The role of CIC and CBSA: The report only examines Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), but neglects to consider the role of Citizenship and Immigration Canada and Canada Border Services Agency, both of which play a key role in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
  • Agricultural exceptionalism: There is no discussion on why there has not been any greater scrutiny of the agriculture sector.
  • Workers are people: The report treats migrants as mere economic units, rather than human beings with individual and collective rights.
  • Recruiters: The report speaks to employment recruitment efforts without examining the role of third party recruitment agencies in bringing migrant workers.
  • Precaritization of jobs: The report provides commentary about the hiring of marginalized people without considering broader trends in the precaritization of employment (i.e. insecure, low-wage, unprotected and informal jobs with limited or no benefits)
  • Timing and industry: The report does not examine the time spent by migrant workers in Canada. Specifically, the report examines Labour Market Impact Assessment approval without examining the labour attachment of these TFW’s to the industries they worked in.
  • Four-and-Four: How did the Four-in-and-Four-Out Rule impact migrant workers in low-skill streams of the TFWP? How many were forced to return to their countries of origin, despite the eventual rescinding of this rule?
  • EI: For those workers who collected EI, how many were able to access special or regular benefits? How many claimed benefits as a result of termination, abuse or job conflict?
    • Members of the public and advocacy groups have requested EI data on the TFWP for years, only to be told that a breakdown does not exist. The report shows it does exist.
  • “Risk-based approach”: The report discusses the use of a “risk-based approach” to workplace inspections. What does this look like, how was it developed and how will it be implemented?
  • Fed-provincial: With respect to federal-provincial agreements on the TFWP, only one province has signed this with the federal government. Migrant workers must be actively included as part of deliberating on these agreements.
  • Inspections: the numbers of inspections are shocking — 4,900 paper inspections and 173 onsite inspections, only 13 of which have been completed.
  • Reprisals: What steps will the federal and provincial governments take to protect workers who are terminated or lose jobs because they assisted with investigations?
  • Exploitation by design: Extreme cases of abuse are of course a problem, but the Auditor General doesn’t comment on how the Temporary Foreign Worker Program invites exploitation by design because of the fundamental structure of the program — driven by employers, with workers tied to their employer.
  • Performance measurement strategy: The report states that ESDC has now developed a “performance measurement strategy” to assess the impact of the TFWP on the Canadian labour market.
    • What are the metrics used for this measurement? Will this strategy ensure the rights of all workers are upheld, especially those of migrant workers?

Art and Tomatoes

Screen Shot 2017-04-13 at 10.04.16 AM

Art and Tomatoes by Tzazná, Queso and Rathika is now on display at The Public Window Gallery in Toronto and is not to be missed. Presented in conjunction with the Mayworks Festival of Working People and the Arts, this visual exhibition and public installation highlights and reflects on the Harvesting Freedom caravan.

Events

  • Opening Reception & Festival Party: May 1, 7 pm – 10 pm, Steelworkers Hall, 25 Cecil St (register here)
  • Exhibitions:
    • April 8 – May 30, The Public Window Gallery, 58 Lansdowne Ave
    • April 24 – May 19, Steelworkers Hall, 25 Cecil St
    • May 1 – 28, Whippersnapper Gallery, 594b Dundas St W
  • Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1933331696890529/ 

Artist statement

By Tzazná + Queso
2016 was the 50th year of the migrant farmworker program. 50 years of workplace abuse, accidents, deaths, and of black and brown people putting food on our tables yet actively being excluded from our communities. It also marks 50 years of farmworker survival and resistance in the face of repressive immigration, labour and housing laws. The Harvesting Freedom Caravan (HFC) was launched by Justice For Migrant Workers (J4MW) to mark this anniversary and call for permanent residence for farmworkers and all migrant workers in this stolen land we call Canada. J4MW is a political collective made up of mostly migrante women and people of colour who are farmworkers, unpaid organizers and allies. This exhibit is a way of giving back to the workers and community members who supported the HFC and continue to fight for fair working and living conditions.

Tomatoes have a long relationship with the farmworker movement. It was a wildcat strike of tomato pickers 16 years ago in Leamington, Ontario – the “Tomato Capital of Canada” – that gave rise to this movement (as memorialized in J4MW’s logo). The visual identity of the HFC was based on images taken in Leamington by farmworker organizers. Campaign materials evoke the fields sowed with tomatoes, vegetables, and tobacco, and the raised fists of workers who toil and resist. Hundreds of red bandanas were used by farmworkers to protect against reprisals and deportations. The oversized vegetables and giant red fabric tomato disrupted daily life as the caravan crossed Ontario. Additionally there are pieces of new original artwork by community artists that were involved in the campaign.

The campaign brought up very important issues around work, racism and immigration; however the fight against sexism and homophobia within the movement was invisible, with some organizers feeling that they had to hide their gender/sexual identity. Like many movements, this one struggles with how to include those issues in the continuous work. In that context, building this project from the young, female/gender nonconforming, queer perspective of the curators is itself an act of resistance and of taking up space.

 

Update on fire fundraiser

fire1Spring has arrived, and many of our brothers and sisters on the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program are returning to southern Ontario. We thought we would take this opportunity to provide an update on a story that happened at the tail end of last year’s season.

On the morning of July 29, 2016, 32 migrant farmworkers from Jamaica lost all their belongings when a fire destroyed their bunkhouse in Mount Pleasant, Ontario. All they were left with were the clothes on their backs.

Justice for Migrant Workers made repeated trips to Mount Pleasant to meet with those who were affected by the fire and to assess the situation. Some of the workers were preparing a shipment of items to send back home to family in Jamaica. However the fire destroyed everything. Tools, passports, and other items were all lost. Some workers also reported that they lost their savings, as they didn’t have bank accounts in Canada and kept all their money in the bunkhouse.

A GoFundMe page was started, and donations also poured in from the community. The total amount raised for our brothers in Brantford reached $21,984. Just over half that amount was raised online, while a very special donation of $10,000 was received from the Jesuit Refugee and Migrant Service.

fire2In October 2016, just before the workers returned home at the end of the season, two Justicia volunteers traveled to Brantford and provided each of the 32 workers with cheques for $687. The gratitude was overwhelming, and important bonds were built which will hopefully last through many seasons to come.

An additional victory was the announcement that the Jamaican consulate would waive all fees associated with replacing the passports. This came after steadfast pressure from Justicia and other groups standing in solidarity with the workers.

Next steps

Migrant farmworkers are employed in one of the most marginalized and oppressed sectors of Canadian society. The Supreme Court of Canada has recognized their work as being some of the most dangerous there is. As migrants they face additional risks due to their precarious status in Canada, the fact that they’re not permitted to unionize, and their social isolation. Yet despite this they work hard to put Ontario produce on the plates of families across our province and beyond, typically without ever receiving adequate recognition or gratitude.

We were proud to have enabled community assistance in this situation, and we encourage everyone to continue with support and advocacy throughout 2017.

The dirty dozen: 12 ways Canadian immigration policy reinforces Islamophobia, white supremacy and racism

16426161_10155545963911393_7684797682539547751_nIn preparation for tomorrow’s event Against Islamophobia and White Supremacy, we prepared a handy listicle on 12 ways Canadian immigration policy reinforces Islamophobia, white supremacy and racism. Check out the dirty dozen here.

As the Globe and Mail’s Denise Balkissoon describes (drawing on Robin DiAngelo), white supremacy isn’t just about the KKK or neo-nazis. Instead, it describes “the entrenchment of whiteness as the sun around which other, inferior cultures revolve.” This often involves what George Lipsitz calls “possessive investments in whiteness.” In the context of Canadian immigration, white supremacy means assuming that the real, core identity of the nation-state is made up of white people of European descent (and brushing off the ongoing legacy of colonialism and Indigenous dispossession). Anti-racist feminist scholars like Sunera Thobani have analyzed how the project of multiculturalism in Canada still ultimately protects white supremacy.

With all of this in mind, please join us tomorrow and across the country in saying “Enough is enough.” 

Together, we say “no” to walls and bans against Muslims and refugees on stolen Indigenous lands. Please join actions across Canada against xenophobic, anti-Black, Islamophobic, anti-refugee, racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic policies.

TORONTO ACTION DETAILS

Date: Saturday, February 4th
Time: 12noon – 2:30 PM
Location: US Consulate (360 University Ave)
Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/407436779648169/

Click here for the full list of actions across Canada.

Enough is enough. Please join National Days of Action Against Islamophobia and White Supremacy

16426161_10155545963911393_7684797682539547751_nEnough is enough. 

Together, we say “no” to walls and bans against Muslims and refugees on stolen Indigenous lands. Please join actions across Canada against xenophobic, anti-Black, Islamophobic, anti-refugee, racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic policies.

TORONTO ACTION DETAILS

Date: Saturday, February 4th
Time: 12:30 PM – 2:30 PM
Location: US Consulate (360 University Ave)
Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/407436779648169/

Click here for the full list of actions across Canada.

We stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter-Toronto and others in demanding the following:

1) The Canadian government must make an immediate public condemnation of the executive order by President Trump that bans Muslim visa-holders from seven countries and also bans all refugees from entering the US.

2) Canada must immediately open the Canada-USA border.

This includes revocation of the Safe Third Country Agreement which bars most refugee claimants entering from the United States over land to claim asylum in Canada. The Designated Country of Origin list, which makes it almost impossible for US citizens and citizens of forty other countries to claim asylum in Canada, must be eliminated.

3) Canada must end racist, anti-refugee, anti-Black, Islamophobic exclusion of migrants and refugees within this colonial border.

This includes ending the system of indefinite immigration detention. The federal government must create a regularization program so that all undocumented residents can live here with their families rather than fear mass deportation. Migrant workers in Canada must also be given permanent status and open work permits. We want real, not symbolic, sanctuaries that guarantee access to services and refuse collaboration with Canadian and American border agents.

4) Canada must rescind all federal legislation that attacks racialized Black and Brown Muslims and refugees, including the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act as well as anti-terror legislation such as Security Certificates and Bill C51.

Thank you for acting in solidarity with Arthur Lorenzo

Thank-you message to supporters for sending letters of solidarity for Arthur Lorenzo, calling for his deportation to be cancelled.Thank you for acting in solidarity with migrant activist Arthur Lorenzo. Within 24 hours, at least 303 people took the time to write letters to Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale calling for him to cancel Arthur’s deportation order. The CBC published also published an article yesterday about the heartbreaking deportation of this migrant justice whistleblower.

Unfortunately, last night Arthur was told by the federal government that the request to stop his removal was denied (see CBC coverage of the deportation here). He left for the Philippines last night. Before his departure, Arthur thanked everyone who phoned their MP, wrote letters to the Minister of Public Safety and stood in solidarity with him. His final message to us was: don’t give up fighting for myself and all the other temporary foreign workers in Canada.

With Arthur’s message in mind, please join us in continuing to support rights and dignity with migrant workers. The Coalition for Migrant Worker Rights Canada has launched a campaign to urge open work permits and permanent status upon arrival.

Please email Ministers Hajdu and Hussen before 30th January: http://migrantrights.ca/en/take-action/#email

Once again, thank you for supporting Arthur Lorenzo, and for supporting our previous campaigns such as successfully halting the deportation of migrant activist Gina Bahiwal. Justice for Migrant Workers will be issuing additional call to actions in the weeks ahead.

Let’s continue this collective struggle in demanding justice for all migrant workers.

Urgent: Prevent migrant activist Arthur Lorenzo’s deportation

cbc-photo-of-arthur

Arthur Lorenzo. Photo credit – CBC: http://bit.ly/KZ3UFR

Arthur Eisma Lorenzo Jr is a migrant worker who has been deeply involved in migrant rights activism and community-based work with LGBTQ refugees. As just one example of Arthur’s courageous advocacy, he participated in this CBC video interview about the exploitative conditions he faced as a restaurant worker in Labrador City (his employer’s permit was temporarily suspended). Now, Arthur is facing deportation on January 26th, 2017 at 10:30pm.

A couple of weeks ago, we asked people to send letters of solidarity calling for a stay on migrant activist Gina Dahiwal’s deportation. It was a long shot, but it worked.

Please email Minister Ralph Goodale today to ask him to stop the deportation (CC Minister Ahmed Hussen, Parliamentary Secretary Arif Virani, and MP John Aldag, and Justice for Migrant Workers). We’ve included a template email below.

The Honourable Ralph Goodale
Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
ralph.goodale@parl.gc.ca
CC:
The Honourable Ahmed Hussen
Member of Parliament (York-South Weston)
Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship
ahmed.hussen@parl.gc.ca

The Honourable Arif Virani
Member of Parliament (Parkdale-High Park)
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of 
Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship
Arif.Virani@parl.gc.ca

The Honourable John Aldag
Member of Parliament (Cloverdale-Langley)
John.Aldag@parl.gc.ca

Justice for Migrant Workers
j4mw.on@gmail.com

Dear Minister Goodale,

I am writing to express concern about the removal of Arthur Eisma Lorenzo Jr, which has been scheduled for January 26th, 2017 at 10:30pm. Arthur was instrumental in exposing workplace injustices while working in Labrador City in 2014. Since his arrival in Canada, Arthur has made positive contributions both in  Labrador and British Columbia by participating in numerous organizations and advocating for a broad array of communities. By deporting Arthur, Canadian society as a whole would lose an important and strong advocate for migrant workers.

Arthur Lorenzo came to Canada from the Philippines in June 2011 under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) and has worked in the hospitality and customer service industry.  While in Canada, Mr. Lorenzo has tirelessly and courageously advocated for improving the living and working conditions of migrant workers in Canada. In 2014,  Arthur acted as a whistleblower by exposing exploitative working and living conditions he and his colleagues had endured. His advocacy was profiled in a CBC Newfoundland exposé that documented his experiences working in Labrador City.

Unable to find work in Labrador, Arthur resettled in British Colombia, where he has been an active member of the West Coast Domestic Workers Association; a volunteer participant and social group co-facilitator with the Rainbow Refugee Society; a volunteer participant with Mosaic Settlement services, and an active member of Vancouver Association of Survivors of Torture (VAST). Through his extensive volunteer activities advocating for compassion and fairness for vulnerable groups, Arthur has been a pillar in numerous communities. He has attempted to transform his own negative experiences by helping others who face barriers to inclusion.

Arthur’s advocacy has also focused on the intersection of LGBTQ and migration issues, a group that faces unique vulnerabilities under Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker program. Through volunteering, educating and advocacy, Arthur has provided crucial leadership in an emerging area of policy.

Arthur has made significant sacrifices to come to work to Canada. Taking a stand against workplace abuse has also come at a cost to him. By courageously speaking up about exploitative working conditions, Arthur has played a key role in shedding light on problems with the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. He should be given the opportunity to remain in Canada, obtain work, and continue his vital community-based work. As the federal government is about to announce changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program on January 30th, the moral and humane step is to defer Arthur’s deportation.

I am asking you to intervene and cancel Arthur’s removal from Canada, which is scheduled for January 26, 2017 at 10:30pm.

Thank you for considering this request. I look forward to your prompt response.

Sincerely,

[Name]

[Mailing address so they know you are a real person]

We have until Jan 30th: Demand open work permits for all migrant workers

We have until January 30th! Demand open work permits for all migrant workers. Email the minister: migrantrights.caAmong all of the indignities low-wage migrant workers face, being ‘tied’ to one’s boss is among the worst.

Because of tied work permits, workers hired under low-wage streams of Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (including the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program) are only permitted to work for a single employer at a single location. If low-wage migrant workers encounter an abusive employment relationship, if their job or housing makes them sick, or if a frost destroys the crop for which they were hired to harvest, then changing employers is often extremely difficult in practice.

We have a key opportunity to end the injustice of tied work permits. The federal government is scheduled to announce new policies for migrant workers on  January 30th. Please take action right now by emailing Employment Minister Patricia Hajdu and Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen at this link: http://migrantrights.ca/en/take-action/#email

If you’re on Twitter, you can also tweet at the Ministers here.

As evidenced by Gina Bahiwal’s recent victory, we know that organized grassroots power can make a difference in the struggle for migrant justice. Let’s ensure an end to tied work permits today.

Leveraging the success of cancelling Gina Bahiwal’s deportation order

gina-bahiwal-jpg-size-custom-crop-1086x611

Photo from Toronto Star: http://on.thestar.com/2jbm9KP

Many, many thanks again to everyone who phoned, emailed, tweeted at and met with MPs to stop Gina Bahiwal’s deportation. We are darn lucky that this champion for migrant justice will be staying (for a year, at least) in the place known as Canada. This example shows that when the conditions are right, organized grassroots power makes an enormous difference.

As Gina mentions in this new article published by the Toronto Star, the fight isn’t over. Let’s leverage this collective success by continuing to organize for broad-based changes to end the racial, economic and social injustices faced by migrant workers writ large. This includes ongoing campaigns for permanent status on arrival for all migrant workers in Canada.

BREAKING NEWS: Deportation order against migrant activist Gina Bahiwal cancelled

Drawing of Gina Bahiwal during the Justice for Migrant Workers Harvesting Freedom campaign

Art: Tzazná

After an outpouring of support from all across Canada, the deportation order for migrant activist Gina Bahiwal has been cancelled. Huge thanks to everyone who took the time to write letters of support; grassroots public pressure makes a difference. Gina’s struggle was also supported by dedicated work from her lawyer, Richard Wazana of Wazana Law.

Please see our full press release here.

Upon hearing the news, here is what Gina had to say:

This is a victory for all migrant workers, however the fight is not over yet. Myself and the other workers are going to continue to organize and to fight against the injustices of our immigration where we are tied to a single employer. The only solution is permanent immigration status on arrival for all temporary foreign workers. Thank you to everyone who showed solidarity with me. Let’s continue to organize together so we create a society based on compassion and fairness for all workers, migrants and Canadians.

– Gina Bahiwal, Migrant activist

Justice for Migrant Workers is continuing to fundraise for Gina’s legal fees. If you would like to show further solidarity with Gina, you can place a secure PayPal donation here and indicate it is for Gina’s legal fees: https://harvestingfreedom.org/donations/