NEW YORK (Agencies): A United Nations expert has issued a stern warning about Canada’s temporary foreign worker program, which welcomes up to 60,000 individuals annually into the country, stating that it is fostering modern-day forms of slavery.
Following a comprehensive two-week investigative visit to Canada, Tomoya Obokata, the UN special rapporteur for contemporary forms of slavery, expressed deep distress over the accounts of exploitation and abuse relayed by migrant workers.
In a statement posted on the UN Human Rights office website, Obokata highlighted how employee-specific work permit systems, including specific Temporary Foreign Worker Programs (TFWPs), render migrant workers highly susceptible to contemporary forms of slavery, as they fear reporting abuses due to the risk of deportation.
The contentious program has been under scrutiny for several years as it has faced allegations of systemic exploitation. Foreign laborers in various sectors, including agriculture and meat processing, have lamented substandard working conditions and limited avenues for addressing instances of abuse.
The UN investigation comes a little over a year after Jamaican farm workers penned a letter to their country’s labor minister, likening the work they were coerced into performing at two Ontario farms to “systemic slavery.” The letter outlined grievances such as exposure to hazardous pesticides without proper safeguards and verbal abuse from their employers.
Canada’s foreign worker initiative allows employers to hire laborers from Mexico and eleven Caribbean nations for up to eight months annually. In his statement, the special rapporteur also urged Canada to establish a “clear pathway to permanent residency for all migrants” to prevent further instances of abuse. He emphasized that foreign workers contribute invaluable skills crucial to the Canadian economy and called on legislators to advance legislation safeguarding the rights of overseas workers.
A 2014 study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal Open revealed that 787 migrant farm workers in Ontario were repatriated to their home countries after sustaining work-related injuries. Some were transported with little prior notice and denied medical treatment access.