Josie Baker, the migrant worker outreach co-ordinator with the Cooper Institute, says the MacLauchlan government should look to Manitoba for a successful model.
Manitoba’s Worker Recruitment and Protection Act and its regulations work to improve protection for foreign workers wanting to live and work in that province.
“One of the things we are really hoping for is to have regulation around the recruitment industry in P.E.I.,’’ says Baker, who helped co-ordinate a public forum Monday in Charlottetown that explored how to advance the rights of migrant workers.
“The Manitoba model has been adopted by Nova Scotia and by Saskatchewan. It is a good model because it does involve some proactive enforcement because, as has been shown time and time again, migrant workers are not going to complain unless they are absolutely at the end of the rope and if there is absolutely no hope.’’
P.E.I. Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker, who attended the forum held in the Farm Centre, would also like to see Prince Edward Island borrow a page from Manitoba’s migrant worker legislation.
“We don’t need to reinvent anything here,’’ he told The Guardian.
“The legislation exists. We’d probably have to adapt it to our particular unique circumstances here. That would seem to me to be the template that the provincial government should be using in order to protect the workers’ rights.’’
Much room exists to improve the fortunes of migrant workers in Canada, says Fay Faraday, a social justice lawyer working in Toronto.
She says the labour migration system in Canada creates a climate for exploitation.
“I’ve been doing this for more than 25 years and I’m still shocked by the stories I hear,’’ she says.
“About a fifth of workers are being paid less than minimum wage, about a third do work and are not paid for it … workers are often asked to work with chemicals or (other) dangerous materials without training, without safety equipment.’’
Some migrant workers in Prince Edward Island, she is quick to add, are also exploited.
“Examples of really quite extortionate recruitment practices where workers had to pay thousands and thousands of dollars for minimum wage jobs,’’ says Faraday, “that happens in P.E.I.
“Situations where workers have had to pay their recruiters security deposits as a promise that they are going to finish their contract and return to their home country at the end of the day.’’
Faraday says she has heard of “really abusive’’ housing situations where migrant workers are housed in food processing plants with overcrowding and rents well above market value.