Migrant Workers Sue Canada over Employment Insurance

    They denounce a string of injustices

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    Temporary foreign workers in Ontario have filed a class-action lawsuit against the federal government, alleging that they must pay into the employment insurance system without being able to receive such benefits once they return to their home countries.

    The plaintiffs also challenge the contractual obligation that binds them to a single employer. Their class action lawsuit amounts to $500 million. The petition must be approved by the courts in order to move forward.

    A long time coming

    This problem has existed for some time, explained lawyer Jody Brown of the Goldblatt firm, who initiated the class action lawsuit filed on behalf of Kevin Palmer and Andrel Peters, two Caribbean migrant workers who worked in the Leamington region in a crop of tomatoes.

    The lawsuit was filed last month in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Toronto and was filed on behalf of workers under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program over the past 15 years.

    “The plaintiffs are not only fighting for themselves, but also for the tens of thousands of workers who have experienced the same situation”: A quote from Jody Brown, the attorney who filed the class action lawsuit.

    A 2022 report from the Department of Statistics stated that Canada is increasingly relying on temporary foreign workers to fill labor shortages and that the number of these migrant workers in Canada increased by 600% since 2000 to reach 777,000 in 2021.

    Ottawa defends itself

    Employment and Social Development Canada declined to comment on the matter as the case is before the courts.In an email statement, that Ministry assured that temporary foreign workers enjoy the same rights and protections as Canadians when they are in Canada.

    Attorney Brown responded by pointing out that temporary foreign workers do not have the right to change employers under the rules of the federal program that allows them to come and work temporarily in the country.

    She added that when the harvest season ends, these workers must return to their home countries without being able to receive employment insurance benefits, despite having contributed to that plan.

    Chris Ramsaroop of Justice for Migrant Workers welcomed the class action request. According to him, the employment insurance system should be modified to allow temporary foreign workers to receive those benefits like a Canadian worker.

    It’s worrying. We are in the 21st century and we still have a bonded labor program. Workers should not be restricted to a single employer or placed in such a precarious situation, Ramsaroop added.

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