Migrant justice coalition demands human rights-based reform of TFWP

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The Coalition for Migrant Worker Rights Canada (CMWRC) has planned a week of actions from May 28 to June 6 to demand reform of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP). Along with an online petition, CMWRC's week of #StatusNow actions in Vancouver, Toronto and Charlottetown will call on Parliament to introduce reforms that grant migrant workers mobility, voice, and equality.

The #StatusNow actions are timed alongside Parliament's review of the TFWP. On May 11, Parliament's Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA) began their review of the TFWP. The review will last just over a month.

Officials from Employment and Social Development Canada and Citizenship and Immigration will be the first witnesses to appear before the HUMA subcommittee. Witnesses will also testify on May 16, 18, 30 and June 1 before HUMA adopts their draft report on June 15.

CMWRC's priorities for HUMA's review include ensuring that migrant workers are part of the review process by serving as witnesses to the committee, speaking at public events and sharing their stories with the media.

CMWRC's nine-member groups hope that the #StatusNow events will stimulate a national conversation on migrant worker rights and bolster the migrant worker led movement for immigration reform in Canada.

Vulnerable to abuse

The TFWP allows Canadian employers to hire foreign workers temporarily, to "fill temporary labour and skill shortages." Employers must satisfy an assessment to confirm that no Canadian workers are available for the job.

In January 2014, the Conservative government overhauled the program and introduced laws that barred employers from hiring low-wage temporary foreign workers in areas with unemployment rates of over six per cent.

The overhaul also forced employers with 10 or more employees to reduce the number of low-wage temporary foreign workers to 30 per cent in 2014, and then to 20 per cent in 2015. The cap will drop to 10 per cent on July 1 if the Liberals do not significantly reform the program.

In an open letter to the current Minister of Employment, Workforce Development, and Labour MaryAnn Mihychuk, the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) argued that the overhaul gave "to addressing the fate of TFWs whose employers were found to be at fault, or to correcting systemic flaws in the program that leave migrant workers vulnerable to abuse."

In a telephone interview with rabble.ca, Janet Dench, Executive Director of CCR, expressed concern over the scope of HUMA's review. Since the review does not set out to question whether the TFWP program should continue to bring in temporary migrant workers, Dench doubts whether the review's report will lead to immigration reform in a broad sense.

"In the midterm, however, we want to push for more access to permanent residency for migrant workers," Dench said.

Sophia Reuss is a Montreal-based writer, editor, and is a recent graduate of McGill University. She's interested in how online media and journalism facilitate public accessibility and conversation. Sophia also writes and edits for the Alternatives International Journal. She is the rabble.ca news intern.

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