(Ottawa) Unsanitary or overcrowded housing, poverty wages and unpaid overtime, bond of servitude with the employer: the United Nations special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery was “disturbed” by the conditions in which workers live temporary foreign workers in Canada.
What there is to know
- Closed work permits granted to temporary foreign workers put them at risk of being subjected to a form of modern slavery, according to a UN-commissioned expert.
- The tortuous path to permanent residence for these workers is “discriminatory”, believes this expert.
- He also judges that Indigenous people are “at higher risk” of finding themselves victims of contemporary forms of slavery.
UN representative Tomoya Obokata, a Japanese expert on international law and human rights specializing in transnational organized crime, human trafficking and modern slavery, traveled the country for two weeks to reach this conclusion .
“The Temporary Foreign Worker Program constitutes a breeding ground for forms of modern slavery,” he says in an assessment based in particular on testimonies collected from workers in Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia and of New Brunswick.
They spoke of “excessive working hours”, “low pay”, “unpaid overtime”, but also “sexual harassment, intimidation and violence” suffered at the hands of employers or of their family, listed the independent expert based in London.
Foreign workers are also sometimes “crowded” in “unsanitary” accommodation belonging to an employer to whom they are chained because of their closed work permit.
This bond of “dependence” which is established is likely to open the way to a form of modern slavery, according to Mr. Obokata.
And the fact that these workers who “play a vital role in the Canadian economy, because without them, there would be no food on the table”, have difficulty – or not at all – access to permanent residence is “discriminatory”, he raised.
“At a minimum, we need to give them the opportunity to apply. I don’t think everyone wants to stay, because many have family in their country and it suits them to spend a few months in Canada and then return home,” he told The Press.
Independent senator Julie Miville-Dechêne fully subscribes to the findings of the special rapporteur. “There is a risk of modern slavery because there are closed permits. This gives weapons to certain unscrupulous bosses to exploit and threaten their staff,” she expressed on the telephone.
She believes the government should issue open work permits. “It’s true that with that, there is a risk that these employees will change companies, but at the same time, why should we have the right to change and not them? They pay taxes, and they do not have the same rights,” she said.
This is without taking into account that the mechanisms aimed at ensuring the well-being of temporary foreign workers are failing, noted Tomoya Obokata during his tour. “The inspections carried out by the authorities are grossly ineffective,” reads his end-of-mission statement.
“There is not often, and when there is, it happens that it is done over the telephone,” he continues. Sometimes, the employer is informed in advance (…) and asks his employees to clean up. It also happens that he arranges so that problem workers are not present at the time of the inspection. »
Even if a temporary foreign worker decides to file a complaint, the process is “complicated and takes time,” explained Cheolki Yoon, assistant professor at the School of Social Communications at Saint Paul University and volunteer, in an interview. at the Immigrant Workers Center.
“Many do not have enough information about their rights, and even knowing their rights, there is a great reluctance to report, because their right of residence is dependent on the work permit. The majority considers that this is the price to pay,” he said.
“Sexual slavery” of indigenous women
In addition to looking at the situation of temporary foreign workers, the special rapporteur focused on the reality of Indigenous people, who are “highly likely to be victims of modern slavery”, particularly women and girls.
“Several speakers highlighted the risk of sexual assault and exploitation that Indigenous women and girls face near mobile resource extraction camps, or “man camps” (man camps), populated by well-off non-Indigenous men,” he said.
“In certain cases, we can speak of sexual slavery,” the expert wrote in his report.
As part of his mission to the country, the special rapporteur also examined the realities experienced by people of African descent, people living with disabilities, former prisoners, homeless people and sex workers.
He was also interested in Canadian human rights legislation. In this regard, on a more positive note, he welcomed the adoption of the Law on Combating Forced and Child Labor in Supply Chainssponsored by Senator Julie Miville-Dechêne, which will come into force in January.