In the News June 9
For Your Information
Historical Overview of Recruitment of Temporary Foreign Workers
In the presentation given by Eugénie Depatie-Pelletier on behalf of the Association for the Rights of Household and Farm Workers (RHFW), during a conference at Université Laval entitled Justice and Rights for Temporary Migrant Workers, we learn that: “Right from the beginning of New France, certain individuals were recruited from abroad by agents for the benefit of employers here and were committed to serving them for a pre-determined period of time.
“Historically, a non-authorized change of employer was sanctioned by imprisonment, the branding of the fleur-de-lys (lily) on one’s shoulder and if the employer was so inclined, by peace officers returning the disobedient worker to the employer’s residence.
“Once slavery was legalized, including in New France and Lower and Upper Canada, employers who had the means preferred the purchase of slaves to recruitment hired under contract of temporary servitude. At a certain point, the possibility of purchasing slaves replaced the trend of maintaining hired workers in conditions of temporary servitude, but once slavery was abolished, governments everywhere and particularly in the U.S., policy makers in Florida, South Carolina, Alabama, Missouri and the rest of the southern confederate states, were highly creative in preserving for their employers access to unfree labour, such as through imprisonment for leaving before the termination of one’s contract, prison for a worker financially indebted to an employer. Employers would provide advances to workers right from the start, to ensure that the indebted worker could not leave without risking imprisonment. Furthermore, those without a contract, referred to as vagabonds, were also typically subject to imprisonment. At the same time, employers were given access to convicts, who were only permitted to work for a specific employer. Penalties were even imposed on employers, just as is being done presently in Canada, for “stealing” a worker already under contract.
“But because the U.S. Constitution then already protected not only the right to liberty but also, specifically, the right not to be held in servitude, at the beginning of the 20th century all these unfree labour supply policies were contested in the courts and declared inapplicable in a free society.
“Under the war measures during World War II, governments again undertook to limit the capacity of certain workers to leave their jobs, in particular within the agricultural industry. In the U.S. in particular, at the end of the war, the government accepted not only to retain in part these labour systems of unfree labour for non-citizens, but even delegated their management to interested employer coalitions.”
“Beginning in 1966, the Canadian state also re-consolidated its admission system for foreign workers linked to an employer, initially for the Ontario agricultural sector. Beginning in 1973 it opened access to all sectors of the economy.
“Today the government no longer needs to threaten prison or the forced return to the employer. Instead, the revocation of the right to work and possible deportation are threatened.
“Just like in the 17th century, our workers of today, in an attempt to avoid state sanctions, rarely leave their job at the risk of a right that could weaken their employment relationship.
“Already in the 17th century, our employers were very appreciative of the unfree labour systems, which they regard just as highly today.
“In short, still today on the one hand we have employers very grateful for access to a system of unfree workers and on the other, a government in the service of these employers that for over 400 years has ensured the system is minimally maintained, with the difference now that it is being expanded.”
Workers’ Forum, posted June 9, 2022.