In the News
Status for All Migrant Workers!
Challenges to the Affirmation of Migrant Workers’ Rights
The following report was provided by Tess Tesalona, representative of Migrante Quebec, at a zoom meeting to discuss the challenges facing migrant workers and refugees, hosted by the Marxist-Leninist Party in Quebec on February 16.
Migrante Quebec is an organization of Filipino workers in Quebec that supports the struggle for the rights and welfare of migrants. It is also a chapter of Migrante Canada, with groups across major cities in Canada, and a member of the International Migrants’ Alliance.
We believe that we need to educate ourselves and to work collectively with others in order to effect change. We cannot be struggling on our own. I’m here today to share with you some of our experiences on the ground, as we navigate the stormy sea of migrants’ struggle.
Imagine people arriving in Canada in the middle of winter, during the first wave of the pandemic, from a tropical climate. Suddenly you find yourself living in a trailer with only space heaters to warm you. A few days later, two other workers join you in this small space.
Imagine having been recruited as truck drivers, mechanics, foundry workers, etc. — temporary foreign workers are now in many sectors of industry here in Quebec — because of your experience in your own country, as well as having worked in other countries apart from Canada. Once you arrive here, you are told that you can’t do that job. You are hired for a job, and suddenly you find that your job includes shoveling snow off the roofs of buildings.
And then, on your pay slip, you find unexplainable deductions.
Also, if you came here as a wife, you find that you will be working without compensation.
After five or 10 years working here, you find yourself in limbo, still waiting for permanent resident status, and that includes waiting also for the chance to be reunited with your family.
During this pandemic, migrants and immigrants here who had been working in different factories when they closed, lost their jobs. But once these factories reopened, they were not called back. Of course, many of them are already senior workers, and have been replaced by an even more disposable workforce.
I know that there are even more horrific stories to be told, but I also want to tell you about their incredible courage and perseverance and their sense of justice.
As Migrante, we are engaged in two particular campaigns: the Regularization and No to Trafficking of People campaigns, as well as the Status for All! campaign.
People arrive in Canada in all kinds of ways. They arrive with some form of status. Many of them lose their status for one reason or another. In this campaign, we are working with the Migrant Rights Network across Canada to create awareness about this issue and to demand policy change to regularize undocumented people.
Included in regularization is access to health care. As you know, whether you have status or not, people don’t stop living, nor should they stop working. They remain contributing members of society, and they must be afforded the same access to care.
We also demand respect for whatever the prevailing labour standards are, whether under the CNESST (Quebec Labour Standards, Pay Equity and Workplace Health and Safety Board), which are the minimum standards, or the industry standards included in the Comités paritaires (Joint committees) or as members of the trade unions in their collective bargaining agreements.
Locally, we work in partnership with the Coalition Against Precarious Work, as most of the migrants and undocumented people find themselves in all kinds of working conditions.
One of the challenges for us, because we were first colonized by Spain and then by the U.S. — that is how we learned to speak English — is that it has been very difficult for us to be able to learn and speak French fluently. With this new immigration requirement by Quebec, the criteria is just too high, even for spouses who are coming to join them. It is already a criteria that once they arrive, they must have Level 4 French.
Under the No to Trafficking of People campaign, our emphasis is on trafficking for the purpose of forced labour. This includes all kinds of ways in which they arrive, mostly through unscrupulous agencies. We want to create awareness about the many loopholes in the neo-liberal policies on migration that up the trend in the trafficking of people.
In closing, I just want to remind us all that the first review on the Global Compact for Migration (GCM) will be taking place May 17-20 in New York. This is an event sponsored by the United Nations called International Migration Review Forum (IMRF), to take stock of what has happened since the implementation of the GCM for “safe, orderly and regular migration ” in 2018.
We from the migrant and refugee community know full well what happened to us. We hope that you’ll join us in the International Migrants Alliance (IMA) to shout out loud that this Compact is a smokescreen for the realities we face. This Compact is not for us.
Thank you very much.
(Workers’ Forum, posted February 18, 2022. Edited slightly for publication.)