Break the Chains – Abolition of the Legacies of Slavery Hidden within Immigration Law 

[For more information, download the pdf version of our recent synthesis : Migrant Care and Farm Workers, Canadian Law, and Unfree Labour (2018)]

Canada has a wide-range of programs for foreign nationals looking to work in the country. Hundreds of thousands of individuals come to work in Canada through these admission programs, thousands of them as household or farm workers employed at the place of residence of their employer.

ARHW_BREAK THE CHAINSIn many cases, the Canadian government issues employer-specific work permits to these individuals, which binds the worker to one employer and greatly restricts their ability to switch employers.

These legal restrictions on obtaining alternative employment mean workers are extremely reluctant to do anything that might jeopardize their job. It produces a major shift in the balance of power between employers – employees, in the favor of the employer. In sum, these workers are imposed state restrictions of the exercise of fundamental rights, and therefore face higher risks of labor rights violations and human trafficking.

Until the government stops binding workers to a specific employer, the fear of being fired, and possibly deported, will continue to trap these workers in employment arrangements that constitute involuntary servitude – where they commonly experience minimal labour and health and safety standards violations; psychological, physical and sexual harassment and assault; restrictions to physical liberty and other factors associated with conditions of human trafficking and debt bondage.

Despite overwhelming evidence that employer-specific work authorizations and equivalent measures directly contribute to the restriction of workers’ fundamental rights to liberty, security and access to justice in the country, the Canadian government has failed to reform the immigration law in order to allow (im)migrants workers to change jobs freely.  In this context,  reforming immigration law to ensure compatibility with fundamental rights requires the intervention of the Canadian Courts.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees that everyone has the right to liberty, security of the person and access to justice in the country. Employer-specific work authorizations create obstacle to the exercise of such rights. Having the Courts invalidate employer-specific work permits, and other equivalent policies, is a necessary step to ensure that the temporary foreign worker programs implemented by the governments respect the rights of all (im)migrants, including those admitted for employment within our houses and farms.

Since 2017, the ARHW legal committee has been working on the preparation of a constitutional challenge of federal employer-tying policies. Together, we can bring about the abolition of federal regulations that allow the Canadian government to impose restrictive employment arrangements on (im)migrant workers.

Get involved and help us break the chains that bind (im)migrant workers to their employers: