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Report by Ange Holmes on:
Solidarity: Migrant Worker’s Conference 2008 Ottawa ON

Agenda Topics:Day 1: History of Migrant Workers
Workshops:   Immigrants Refugees and Temporary Workers or  The US experience
The Temporary Foreign Worker Program and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program

Day 2: International and Provincial Law
Workshops:   Challenges for organizing women or Female Migrant Sex Workers
Tools and challenges for organizing

Where do we go from here? How to move forward effectively together

The migrant worker’s conference was extremely informative on issues regarding organizing and protecting temporary foreign labour in the past as well as the present challenges facing this rapidly growing group of workers in Canada as well as the US.

In the past it has largely been a struggle with agricultural workers and live in caregivers and now that struggle is expanding to sectors including health care, hospitality and tourism.

The conservative government is dealing with labour shortages by exploiting the Temporary Foreign Workers program and organizing needs have become imminent with regards to this.

In Canada right now as these sectors open up issues of unfair treatment, lack of wage protection, proper communication with labour organizations and unions and advocacy support (just a few examples of the problems that plague this program) are still not being managed with the priority that is necessary for fair treatment of worker’s.

There has been some success stories as with Olymel, a hog plant in Alberta, which managed to organize a group of foreign worker’s implementing fair treatment and opportunities for gaining citizenship as well as numerous other important protections negotiated into a collective agreement.  This is a positive example of what is possible if the proper organizing efforts can be made available.

As the numbers of individuals expand so must the groups to protect and fight for these worker’s.

Of course the biggest issue is a lack of awareness that people are being exploited and then having the problem of large groups of people slipping under the radar, which makes justice nearly impossible to accomplish. As we have seen happening with agricultural workers and live in care-givers for years.

CUPE could be one sort of organization that could have an impact on upcoming changes we will see happen in Ontario within the health care sector.

As more labour gets disseminated to private contracts and the fight for organizing and protection of workers in general goes on we will be finding ourselves with a large group of workers from the temporary foreign labour program coming into the health care sector.

Implementing organizing efforts and collective agreements that are not inferior is of utmost importance.

As well including in collective agreements issues that are specific to foreign workers like citizenship opportunities, language training as well as community integration would be very important. 

All in all, it seems awareness of this issue seems the place to start and then coming together and expanding community and organizing groups to make changes happen to protect these workers and make sure existing protections are upheld as well as develop new strategies that better serve the individuals involved.