August 16, 2021 - No. 70
Ontario Hospital Workers in Action
Demand Repeal of Bill 124
Conditions of Migrant Workers
• Temporary Foreign Agricultural Workers Increasingly at Risk
- Diane Johnston
Ontario Hospital Workers in Action
to Prime Minister Trudeau, the COVID-19 pandemic is over and he is
ready to receive a post pandemic mandate from the electors. The fact
remains that the pandemic is not over, attested to by Canada's Chief
Public Health Officer who reports that in fact we have entered the
fourth wave. In her August 13 statement she said, "The latest
national seven-day moving average
of 1,609 new cases reported daily (August 6-12), is an increase of 70
per cent over the previous week," and that there are early signs of
increases in severity trends, with an increase of 14 per cent over the
previous week in the number of people being treated in hospitals.
no summation whatsoever has taken place of the conditions across the
country. The crisis in the health care system is a case in point. The
crisis in the entire system is getting worse, mostly because of
privatization and the relentless and ruthless pursuit of programs to
pay the rich and consider the working people dispensable.
Within this, hospital workers in Ontario are facing the same
problems as health care workers in other provinces. These problems
existed before the pandemic but have become much worse, the most
significant of which is staff shortages. Without sufficient staff,
patient care is compromised. Instead of increasing investments in
including training and recruiting workers in all areas, those working
in health care have been forced into untenable overwork situations and
have been denied necessary rest which affects their health and
well-being as well as that of their families and their patients.
July, 70,000 hospital workers who are members of the Ontario Council of
Hospital Unions-Canadian Union of Public Employees (OCHU-CUPE) and the
Service Employees International Union (SEIU) have been organizing
actions at hospitals throughout the province demanding Respect Us. Protect Us. Pay Us. and Repeal Bill
The purpose of the rallies is to mobilize union members and the public
in support of the workers' demands that Bill 124 be repealed and that
the Ontario Hospital Association engage in negotiations with the unions
for a new collective agreement without government dictate of what can
and cannot be negotiated. Hospital workers, like all
public sector workers, are being targeted by Bill 124, legislation
passed by the Ford government in 2019. Bill 124, the Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations Act, 2019,
imposes a three-year "moderation period" on public sector workers
during which increases to compensation (i.e. wages and benefits) are
one per cent per year. The current rate of inflation is 3.6 per cent
which means that a one per cent wage increase is a 2.6 per cent pay cut.
It is unconscionable that at this time the Ford government is
insisting on enforcing the language of Bill 124 to actually cut wages
and to take away job security protections that already exist.
In addition to the attempt to impose this cap on compensation, the unions
report that the Ontario Hospital Association has presented them with a
list of concessions related to job security which would strip away
protections previously negotiated, including reduced rights in a
contracting-out situation and the elimination of seniority as a major
getting a job.
Speaking to the press at a rally at Renfrew Victoria Hospital on
July 27, OCHU Secretary-Treasurer Sharon Richer explained the situation
that hospital workers are in after months of working in extremely
difficult conditions during the pandemic. She spoke of the sacrifices
that hospital workers have made,
many unable to take vacations or time off, many reassigned to work in
jobs other than their own or to work in long-term care homes. There
have been many instances of workers isolating themselves from their
families for long periods of time to avoid bringing COVID-19 into their
homes and communities. She said "Everyone is afraid to bring
COVID-19 into their homes since many haven't worked with the proper PPE
in 20 months." More than 23,000 Ontario health care workers have
contracted COVID-19 and 24 have died.
Throughout the pandemic hospital workers have continued to carry out
their responsibilities, putting their health and lives in danger to
look after hospital patients and residents in long-term care homes. It
is governments and employers such as the Ontario Hospital Association
that are not acting responsibly. Providing the right of all to health
care with a guarantee is a social responsibility of government which
includes ensuring that health care workers themselves have the wages
and working conditions that they need in order to do their jobs. Wage
reductions and other concessions will only exacerbate the problem of
recruitment and retention of hospital staff. Workers are demanding
that their voices be heard and denouncing government decrees that put
workers and patients at risk.
Workers' Forum calls on all workers to support hospital
workers in their fight for the repeal of Bill 124 in Ontario and for
wages and working conditions that workers themselves deem acceptable in Quebec and
across the country.
Conditions of Migrant Workers
"This year, more and more agricultural workers are being approached
by recruiters in the rare public spaces they frequent, such as grocery
stores, fast food places or parks" an article published in Le Devoir on
July 29 points out. The authors of the article are Danièle
Bélanger and Guillermo Candiz, respectively professor and
researcher at Laval University; Michel Pilon and Véronique
Tessier, Director General and Coordinator of the Quebec office of the Support
Network for Migrant Agricultural Workers in Quebec (RATTMAQ); and
Eugénie Depatie-Pelletier, President of the Association for the
Defence of Rights of Household and Farm Domestic Staff (ADDPD).
many of these workers, the labour shortage and the pandemic are
contributing to the creation of "even more onerous living and working
conditions than in past years."
to this, the fact that their work permit is closed (they cannot change
employers) "creates a relationship of dependence resulting in many
suffering from abuse." The authors' own fieldwork and the many
interventions made by their organizations attest to the fact that for
many workers, "psychological harassment, non-payment of holidays,
non-declared work accidents, dismissals without reasonable grounds and
the confiscation of personal documents" are common occurrences.
And even though in 2019 the federal government created a program so
that the victims of abuse could apply for an open work permit in order
to change employers, the procedure is complex and requires the
assistance of skilled intervenors. Moreover, the fear of being
denounced by an employer and the potential repercussions prevents many from taking that route.
Their great vulnerability and lack of recourse, the authors point
out, opens the door to the creation of networks that recruit
workers to be employed under the table, a market stimulated by glaring
shortages in certain sectors. "This vicious circle, already
well-developed in Europe, Asia and the U.S., is now making inroads in
Quebec," they write.
Such recruiters offer a job and housing to those daring enough to
leave their workplace and go underground, which may appear particularly
attractive to workers who acquired debt in order to come to Canada
and are having difficulty paying off what they owe.
Added to all this are these workers' situation of isolation, restrictions on their movement and difficult housing and
working conditions, which may provide enough incentive for some to
decide to go underground in hopes of improving their lot. By doing so,
however, they run the risk of expulsion and an even more abusive
authors note that the closing of borders in the context of the pandemic
may also contribute to the development of trafficking networks, that
approach foreign workers and offer to smuggle them into the U.S., with
the lure of better paid jobs or more freedom of movement. However, some
workers in the Quebec City area who have accepted
offers from traffickers for which they paid around $5,000, have been
intercepted by the RCMP, while others have been apprehended by police
in the U.S.
Fernand Borja, General Director of the Foundation for Foreign
Agricultural Worker Recruitment (FERME), has reported that as of the
beginning of August, 53 temporary foreign workers, mainly from
Guatemala, have left their Quebec employer in 2021 and that "[i]f this
continues, it will be a record year."
While most of these workers head to the U.S., some also go to
Ontario, where there is a high concentration of greenhouse vegetable
Michel Pilon notes that "fraudsters are very active and we see this
phenomenon growing." He adds that just a few weeks ago, four
agricultural workers were intercepted on the U.S. side and were
returned to Canada. To his knowledge, this happened to some 20 people
The existence of closed work permits, the authors say, leads to
further precariousness which, within the present context, gives rise to
unregulated and dangerous situations for these workers.
The quicker these foreign workers are provided open work permits on
the Canadian and Quebec labour markets, "the more the risk of them
falling into the hands of fraudulent networks, where their lives and
their integrity are endangered, is reduced."
Based on Canadian government figures, approximately 50,000 to 60,000
foreign agricultural workers come to work in Canada each year, which
accounts for around 60 per cent of all workers who may enter Canada
under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Over 41,000 workers have
arrived to date in 2021.
Government of Canada takes the safety and dignity of foreign workers
very seriously. Everyone deserves a work environment where they are
safe and their rights are respected," boasted Canadian Immigration
Minister Marco Mendicino in a July 26 press release announcing "new
regulatory amendments" aimed at "[i]mproving protections
for temporary foreign workers by mandating employers to provide
temporary foreign workers with information about their rights in
Canada; prohibiting reprisal by employers against workers who come
forward with complaints; and, putting into regulation key requirements
for all employers to provide reasonable access to health-care services,
for employers to provide health insurance when needed. The proposed
changes would also prohibit the charging of recruitment fees to
workers, and hold employers accountable for the actions of recruiters
in this regard."
Almost two years into the pandemic and such measures are only being
announced now? What else can be expected from a government ready to
"sell them down the river" for personal and class gain? This expression,
which originates from the slave trade, continues to be the reality
facing these workers.
Human beings are society's most precious asset and the contribution
these workers have always made, pandemic or not, merits full and
permanent immigration status for themselves and their families.
Let's go all out to make this a reality!
(To access articles individually click on the black headline.)
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