A path to permanent residency, open work permits and better community support services for all migrant workers are serious issues in New Brunswick. If you attended this weekend’s Equal in Rights: Migrant Workers Rights Forum in Fredericton, you now know how difficult work and life can be for temporary workers employed in Atlantic Canada.
The forum was the first of its kind in New Brunswick and brought together more than 75 migrant workers, labour union activists and civil society members. “The forum was an effort to build relationships of solidarity with temporary workers who are coming to Canada from all over the world in search of a better life for their families,” said Debbie Downey, CUPE National Global Justice Committee member and forum organizer.
Participants were able to hear firsthand accounts of vulnerability, exploitation and struggle from several migrant workers who attended from New Brunswick, PEI and Montreal. Several Filipino fish-plant workers present at the forum explained the difficulties they faced because of the infamous ‘4 and 4’ rule. Temporary workers can only be employed for four years in Canada. They must then leave the country and cannot come back to work for another four years. Many of them could face deportation.
The Temporary Foreign Worker Program has come under fire for undermining the rights of migrant workers in Canada. “They are tied to specific employers. They have difficulty protecting themselves from workplace abuse and have little access to community support services” said Luc LeBlanc, CUPE Research Representative. “Those who qualify to apply for permanent residency undergo a lengthy process that separates them from their families for extended periods” added LeBlanc.
According to the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, the number of temporary migrant workers is now more than double the number of newcomers coming to Canada with permanent resident status.
Forum participants have committed to organizing and working together to support efforts to help the province’s migrant workers struggle for dignity and genuine rights recognition.
The forum was hosted in partnership with CUPE, MIGRANTE Canada, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and KAIROS.
 As of April 1, 2015, any migrant worker in a low-waged occupation who has had work permits for a total of 4 years will not be able to renew their work permit and will have to wait another 4 years before being able to return to work in Canada. This ‘4 and 4’ rule applies to workers in the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (including workers in agriculture).