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Standing up for migrants' rights
By Rebecca Blaikie
NDP candidate for Winnipeg North

Under the NDP government here in Manitoba, tens of thousands of newcomers have come to our province through the Provincial Nominee Program. They have come to work, join their families and contribute to the province of Manitoba. Many have navigated the process themselves, or have gone to their local MLAs or MPs for assistance in understanding the rules and expectations when bringing a family member to Canada. There are many individual stories, each with their own twists and turns, but one fact is constant: Manitoba has benefited greatly by the hardworking people that have come to us through the PNP, from the Philippines and across the globe.

I want to take a moment to talk about a different category of worker. These workers face unique and trying circumstances. Their circumstances are unique because, even though they work here, they are not citizens. Their circumstances are trying because the threat of deportation makes it that much harder to defend themselves and their rights in the workplace. I am talking, of course, about migrant workers.

Not that long ago, I worked for Manitoba’s Minister of Labour and Immigration. We heard horror stories from migrant workers and groups like Migrante Canada that defend their rights, about how recruiters and employers would treat them. We heard stories of recruiters charging foreign workers between $5000 and $30,000 for the chance of a job that often did not exist when they arrived. We heard stories of recruiters charging a worker $3000 just to be placed in a database for the possibility of one day getting a job. We heard stories of workers arriving in Canada, only to have their wages cut in half and the promised living or work conditions not met.

The NDP listens and takes action. I was proud when we passed the Worker Recruitment and Protection Act (WRAPA) in Manitoba. Now, under WRAPA, employers that want to hire temporary foreign workers have to register with the government. This law ensures that Manitoba has the best protection for migrant workers. Information is the best weapon against exploitation. Once we know who is hiring temporary foreign workers, we can track the workers’ arrival, discuss recruitment strategies and services with employers, and check up on employers to make sure they are respecting their workers and the legislation in place to protect them. When they are not, we can fine employers as much as $50,000. Furthermore, employers can be made responsible for illegal fees charged to workers. It is not right, and in Manitoba it is illegal, to make someone pay to get a job.

Olivia Chow, the NDP Citizenship & Immigration Critic in Ottawa, took this model and successfully persuaded the Federal government to crack down on crooked consultants through Bill C-35. I want to join Olivia in Ottawa to help fight for the fair treatment of all people who work in Canada.

Despite the advances that the NDP has made, there are still challenges for migrant workers. The recent case of the Three Amigos – Antonio Laroya, Arnisto Gaviola and Ermie Zotomayor – is a reminder of the challenges that still exist. For example, in other provinces migrant workers are not allowed to join a union to better protect their rights and welfare.

All workers, no matter where they are from or where they are working, deserve better than this. The NDP believes that each worker should be able to demand fair treatment without fear of retribution. We believe that if you’re good enough to live and work in Canada, you’re good enough to live and work in Canada, period – and you should be able to stay and bring your family with you. That is why in Manitoba, foreign workers can apply for permanent residency through the PNP after living here for only six months.

We need to bring to Ottawa the kind of leadership that the NDP has shown here in Manitoba. The progress we have made in Manitoba could not have been possible without the NDP’s leadership in the economy, immigration, healthcare and education. The people of Winnipeg North have a strong tradition of sending NDP Members of Parliament to Ottawa to fight for the things that matter to people, like public pensions and healthcare. It’s time once again to send a New Democrat to Ottawa from Winnipeg North.

Rebecca was born and raised in Winnipeg and studied Canadian Social History at the University of Winnipeg and has a Master’s diploma in Community Economic Development from Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec. She is currently co-director of Winnipeg’s Community Education Development Association (CEDA). CEDA works with inner city residents to build better communities through education. Rebecca is an active member of the North End Community Helpers Network (NECHN), the North End Community Coalition (NECC) and the Inner City Social Justice Coalition.