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 programs, many of them are in-home caregivers.
In 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 find new employment. While some workers can technically remain in the country without an employment relationship, they must apply for a new work permit, a process which can take many months and provides no guarantee that their new employer will be approved by the government. In the meantime, these workers are not authorized to work in Canada.
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. As a result, these workers face a higher risk of abuse, as well as serious violations of their human and labor rights.
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 horrendous working conditions; diminished labour rights; wage gouging and theft; contraventions of labour, health, and safety standards; abuse; intimidation; sexual harassment and assault, forcible confinement, and an increased risk of human trafficking and debt bondage.
However, despite overwhelming evidence that employer-specific work authorizations directly contribute to the exploitation and abuse of workers, the Canadian government has failed to implement reforms that would allow (im)migrants workers to change jobs freely. The ARHW has decided that real change requires the intervention of the Canadian Courts.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees that everyone has the right to liberty and security of the person (including the right to access justice.) These rights are not being respected by Canada’s use of employer-specific work authorizations. Having the Courts invalidate employer-specific work permits, and other equivalent policies, will be a concrete step in forcing the government to design a temporary foreign worker program that respects the rights of all domestic workers and reflect Canada’s commitment to the principles of equality, liberty, and human dignity.
At the ARHW, our legal committee has been working, since March 2017, on 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.