In the News
Migrant Workers Take Action
Organizer Fully Explains the Demand
Status for All!
Sarom Rho is an organizer for Migrant Workers’ Alliance for Change. At the January 11 Town Hall organized to defend workers on the front lines of the Omicron crisis, Rho fully explained the issues they face, the justice of their cause and the significance of their demand: Status for All.
Here is what Rho had to say:
In this phase of the pandemic we see total abandonment of working class people by government. There are those with no choice but to go to work. Others are unable to find jobs yet cannot access benefits — especially those without status. Workers are being coerced to get vaccinated to work, while on the other hand there are those who want the vaccine but cannot get it. Teachers and workers in health care are pitted against patients, parents and students. We need to act in solidarity with each other rather than allow ourselves to be pitted against each other.
The immigration system is part of this with rights based on citizenship status. Immigration status is used to create workers with fewer rights. Each year 360,000 people get immigration or refugee status — this is called permanent residency status in Canada. Then after having been here for three years they can apply for citizenship.
At the same time, each year over a million people come to Canada on temporary permits. Who are they? Thousands of farm workers are migrants. They are five times more likely to get COVID than other Canadian workers. They live in cramped quarters, literally sleeping on top of each other on bunk beds. It is not possible in these conditions for them to protect themselves from COVID. If you speak up against your boss, as a migrant you face job loss, homelessness and even deportation.
The only way to have equal rights is equal status. Equal access to health care requires equal status. Everybody must have the ability to be with their families and that means everybody must have equal status. Everyone must be able to assert their rights at work and that means equal status.
Another section are migrant care workers who care for children, the sick and elderly. Last year, one in three migrant care workers we talked to were laid off and unable to get work. At the same time those who were employed found themselves working incredibly long hours, often not able to leave the house where they were employed at all. In 2020 care workers called on the government to change laws to be reunited with their families faster. They have been waiting for years to see change. There are 1.8 million immigration applications backlogged.
International students, current and former, are another section of migrant workers. Nearly 60 per cent of current international students are currently working, many in low wage jobs stocking food shelves in stores, preparing and delivering food, as gig workers — who are mislabelled as such and denied their rights as workers.
One such worker in Brampton, a member of Najwan Support Network, is courageously taking her employer to court to recover more than $18,000 in wages stolen from her. She was being paid $8 an hour. Employers know they can abuse and exploit international students, as they do farm workers and care workers, because they too are migrants, with only temporary status.
Long-term care [LTC] homes say they are facing a staffing shortage of anywhere from 20-30 per cent. Last weekend we had a meeting of LTC non-status care workers, all of whom either have COVID or their partners have COVID. They said they simply have no choice but to go to work. Not a single one of them are able to access benefits that would allow them to stay home while sick.
What is our task? It is very evident. We have to unite, refuse being pitted worker against worker, demand better wages, working conditions, rights and protections for all workers regardless of our immigration status.
We know what we need: a $20 minimum wage, 10 permanent paid sick days, an end to misclassification [as gig workers], access to CERB [Canadian Emergency Response Benefit] and to Labour Standards laws. We need full and permanent status for all migrants and undocumented people. We need a single-tier immigration system that ensures equal rights and dignity for all of us.
Whether you are a migrant or not we have a common enemy and share a common fight against the privatization and austerity agenda, against increasing temporariness and precariousness of workers. The only way to improve our situation is to organize and build infrastructure so we win and so that our community stays permanently organized.
What does that mean for you, to organize and be organized? If you are in a workplace start to regularly meet with your coworkers. If your workplace is not organized, start a unionization drive. If you are in a union, get involved. If you are a student, meet with fellow students at your school. If you are a member of any organization — a religious organization, a sports team, any group — then start taking action on things that matter to you and join with others like you. Join the justice for workers campaign and if you are a migrant, organizations like Migrant Workers Alliance for Change are places for you to join with others like you and take collective action.
That is the only way we are going to go forward. When you are in an organization with others who are like you, your comrades will not abandon you. Worker power is forever and we will never back down.
(Workers’ Forum, posted January 26, 2022)