Foreign workers and labour organizing in Quebec

The constellation of Canada’s temporary foreign worker programs and the role of advocacy organizations like the Immigrant Workers Centre – An interview with Enrique “Kike” Illanes

A RankandFile.ca series on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program

By Andrew Stevens

Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program, and its oldest iteration, the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP), is once again in the media. Allegations of overwork, occupational health and safety hazards, the confiscation of passports, and withholding of pay are defining employment conditions facing foreign workers in Quebec. In this instance, the Immigrant Workers Centre has provided assistance to workers facing mistreatment by employers. On July 25, RankandFile spoke with Kike Illanes, a temporary foreign worker from Spain and organizer with the Immigrant Workers Centre in Montreal.

cti-logo-enKike arrived in Canada under the International Mobility Program, which is part of the country’s vast constellation of (temporary) foreign worker programs. Under the IMP, most occupations are exempt from the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA), the administrative process through which employers must justify the recruitment of foreign workers on the grounds of labour market shortages.

In the interview, Illanes discusses the precarious and marginalized status of temporary foreign workers, many of whom occupy a position even below that of migrant workers who, he argues have at least some hope of becoming permanent residents or citizens. Illanes arrived from Spain following the country’s economic collapse to work in Montreal’s video game industry as a translator. There, he became active in a number of foreign worker advocacy groups, namely the IWC. He recounts the poor conditions of employment and pay that characterizes life for many foreign workers in what are otherwise skill-intensive, high tech industries. The IWC, he says, is a hub for various classifications of foreign workers who are at times linguistically, economically, and culturally excluded from society. And although these documented workers contribute to the economy by paying taxes and employment insurance, and spend their incomes locally, they are prohibited from accessing ostensibly public services.LMO-TFW-Canada

Illanes engages with the importance of migrant and foreign worker organizing and advocacy in Quebec. In addition to institutions like the IWC, Unifor has begun to deploy community chapters as an organizing tool for this precarious status of worker. These are part of the various forms of struggle and organizing that have emerged across Canada, as Salimah Valiani has recently illustrated. Still, the legislative terrain lacks effective mechanisms to uphold the rights of foreign workers in the province, particularly the right to unionize and bargain collectively. Most of the changes recently introduced by Minister Kenny have failed to address these existing shortfalls and, in fact, may further erode conditions for foreign workers.

Check out the IWC’s fact sheet on changes to the Temporary Foreign Work Program and how they compare to the International Mobility Programs.

Listen to the interview with Kike Illanes.

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For a transcript of the interview, click here.

 

 

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