MANAGED MIGRATION BEST PRACTICES AND PUBLIC POLICY

“THE CANADIAN EXPERIENCE[1]

 

Dave Greenhill

 


Executive Summary

 

In the changing world of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, where rapid advancement in transportation and communication is taking place and where new trading relationships of a bilateral or multi-lateral nature are being forged, human capital and the movement of people is becoming increasingly important.  It is not surprising given the magnitude of change taking place that the protection of migrant worker’s basic rights and that the acceptance of migrant workers by host populations is becoming increasingly important.

 

The Canadian experience in managing a large movement of low-skilled migrant agricultural workers, what we have chosen to refer to as “managed migration”, is being put forward, as one possible model, for managing migrant worker movements.

 

We believe that this formal arrangement facilitates public acceptance of the movement and is supportive of worker’s basic rights. Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC), as been able through the administrative infrastructure it has put in place, to enhance the understanding of relevant labour legislation by the employer/employee community and to positively influence decisions taken by other departments that impact upon the workers.

 

Introduction: Antecedents and Justification

 

In 1966, as a response to sustained labour shortages faced by Canadian farmers, HRDC in co-operation with Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) developed the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program[2].  This program allows for the organized movement of foreign workers to meet the seasonal needs of Canadian agricultural employers during planting and harvest periods when shortages of qualified Canadian workers have traditionally occurred.

 

During the 1970’s and the first half of the 1980’s a program quota was set by the department and announced each year.  This arrangement certainly helped to alleviate some of the labour shortages but by the mid 1980’s the system was beginning to breakdown.

 

The department realized that setting an annual quota was arbitrary at best and difficult to defend.  By this time we also recognized that despite the time, effort and money invested by the department at resolving the labour shortages, our efforts were costly, labour intensive and largely ineffective.

 

Seasonal agricultural labour shortages were continuing to grow as the labour market heated up, Canadian agricultural workers were continually being lost to competing sectors which offered better wages, better working conditions and full time status rather than seasonal employment.

 

It had become obvious that the status quo was no longer an option and that fundamental changes would need to be made to the program if we were going to remove the quota in favour of a supply and demand driven model.

 

One final but critical step remained in the evolution of the managed migration program.  This step was taken in 1987 when HRDC decided to give the private sector an active role in the administration of the program. 

 

The employer community dependant on the programs were required to set-up a not-for-profit corporation, separate and distinct from any existing agricultural organization.  The agencies operations were to be governed by a Board of Directors representing major commodity groups with ex-officio representation from HRDCs’ national and regional office.  The agency would be solely responsible for the timeliness of processing all foreign worker requests authorized by HRDC.  This suited the department’s purposes not only because it reduced significantly federal government delivery costs but also because it provided HRDC with a data base of program participants (both employers and employees) that could be continually updated and was readily accessible.

 

 

BEST PRACTICES AND PUBLIC POLICY

 

Let’s begin our examination of best practices and public policy by taking a few moments to consider the fundamental policy issue, namely whether a managed program for the admission of large numbers of seasonal agricultural workers is in fact in the national interest.

 

You might be asking yourself why is he bothering to talk about public policy interests when we are here to discuss best practices.  Well the answer is very simple, I believe that public acceptance of foreign workers, particularly the significant numbers we are talking about, is improved when the public understands through clearly articulated policy the value-added foreign workers bring to the workplace, to the community and to the national economy.

 

I am convinced that this can contribute significantly to the whole question of worker’s rights and best practices.

 

So lets have a very quick look at the question of “national interest.” To do this we need to ask ourselves five questions:

 

1           How such a program will affect domestic workers

 

2           How such a program will affect employers

 

3           How such a program will affect agriculture and agri-related business

 

4           How such a program will affect trade

 

5           How such a program will affect our ability to control irregular immigration

 

The answers to these five fundamental questions viewed in terms of today’s economic realities will form the basis for sound public policy.

 

Lets briefly look at each of these in turn, first how a migrant worker program will affect the domestic workforce.

 

Labour certification of employment opportunities ensures that Canadian agricultural workers are provided first access to employment opportunities.  Consequently the domestic workforce will not be negatively impacted so long as those foreign workers admitted are reimbursed and treated in a fair and equitable manner.

 

In fact, our experience has demonstrated that the employment of domestic seasonal workers can not be expanded to replace foreign workers given that qualified domestic workers are continually being lost to competing sectors offering better wages, working conditions and longer employment periods.

 

Secondly, how will such a program affect employers?  The assurance that employers would have access to the labour needed to see their crops harvested has encouraged Canadian farmers to expand their horticultural production.  In many cases this has led to an increase in the number of year- round jobs farm employers are able to offer to Canadian workers.

 

When we examine the impact of these migrant worker programs on agriculture and agri-related businesses it is evident that industry expansion has created additional jobs in upstream (chemicals, seed etc.) and downstream occupations (trucking, packing, storage, etc.) that are dependent on the production and handling of farm product.

 

In today’s trade environment, characterized by the removal of tariff and trade barriers through negotiated trade agreements, reducing access to adequate labour would simply result in the reallocation of production from labour-short producers to producers in countries with adequate labour.  Failure to have a regime in place to provide adequate labour would consequently simply reduce Canadian farm production and ancillary agri-business employment.

 

With respect to control of irregular immigration Canada believes that effective non- immigrant control can best be achieved through the development of policy, which recognizes and responds to legitimate labour shortages in the economy.

 

Consequently, from a public policy perspective we believe that the choice is clear and that the decision to introduce and manage a seasonal agricultural worker movement is in the national interest.


 

It is important that we understand and put some perspective around the whole question of migrant labour.  We need to debunk the notion that the movement of migrant workers somehow threatens the indigenous workforce.  In fact the contrary is often the case.

 

Properly managed, migrant worker movements contribute to economic and employment growth.  Understanding this is the first step towards the elimination of the xenophobia that so often accompanies such movements. Such recognition can also serve as a catalyst for national governments to enact and enforce measures which provide adequate protection of migrant worker’s basic rights.

 

          As I commented earlier, the Canadian experience in managing large movements of migrant workers, what we have chosen to refer to as “managed migration”, is being put forward as one possible replicable model (best practice) for managing migrant worker movements.

 

          Its strength lies in the formal structure that has been put in place which ensures that all the key players are engaged and are fully committed to the process.

 

          Parties involved adhere to terms set out in bilateral memoranda of understanding (MOU).  Annexed to these MOUs are a set of operational guidelines and an employer/employee agreement.

 

MOUs provide for the organized movement of workers to Canada when and where such a movement is determined to be of mutual benefit to both countries.  Workers are to be employed at premium cost to employers, be provided with adequate accommodation and receive treatment equivalent to that received by Canadians.

 

Operational guidelines governing the movement provide for the stationing of a Government Agent in Canada whose task it is to assist in the smooth functioning of the program.  Many of the appointed Government Agents also have consular responsibilities.  These officials work with and enjoy the support of HRDC regional managers monitoring contract compliance, resolving misunderstandings, ensuring workers have registered for social insurance numbers, have applied for medical coverage and complete and file income tax returns on their nationals behalf.  These guidelines also obligate Canada and the respective governments to hold Annual Operational Policy Review meetings which have proven very helpful.

 

The employer/employee agreements cover the scope and period of employment, lodging and meals, payment of wages, deduction from wages, insurance for occupational and non-occupational injury and disease, maintenance of work records, statement of earnings, travel and reception arrangements and identify specific obligations of both employers and employees.

 

 

The employer/employee agreements are signed by every employer and employee and by the Government Agent prior to the worker’s arrival.  I think it’s important to note that these contracts and agreements are available in the worker’s native language.

 

Workers destined to Canada are selected and counselled by their respective Ministries of Labour in order to ensure that workers are aware of their rights and are as prepared as possible for working conditions in Canada.

 

The management of these Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programs is undertaken by HRDC and its partners (and I include here both the foreign governments and the private sector) in a very hands on way. 

 

HRDC national office networks with its foreign and domestic partners brokering arrangements that enhance the program’s administration, identifying new developments expected to impinge on the program and ensuring employer and employee rights and interests are respected and understood.

 

The active measures HRDC has taken to ensure Worker Rights are respected and understood include:

 

I.          Social Insurance Numbers

 

Ensuring all program participants were properly registered to satisfy legal requirements and to ensure pension plan contributions were credited appropriately.

 

II.        Income Tax Returns

 

Worked closely with Revenue Canada to produce a tax guide specifically for the programs in order to ensure tax witholding and tax filing are properly done.

 

III.     Vacation Pay

 

Sought clarification of provincial labour legislation policy in both Ontario and Quebec regarding worker entitlement and ensured such information was provided to employers and shared with Government Agents

 

IV.      Worker’s Compensation

 

Brokered an agreement to have migrant workers admitted under these programs covered despite such coverage being only voluntary in Alberta and Manitoba.


 

V.        Health Coverage

 

Brokered arrangements with Ministries of Health in Ontario and Quebec to provide workers with immediate coverage in order that the customary three month waiting period could be waived.  We also secured agreement that workers would continue to be covered after contracts ended and until such time as they boarded planes to fly home.

 

VI.      Access to Airport Security Zones

 

Secured agreement from colleagues CIC to provide access to secure areas for accredited Governments Agents servicing the program who are at the airport to meet incoming program participants and to assist them with customs and immigration matters.

 

 

Conclusion:

 

This paper has argued the merit of national governments developing clearly articulated policy with respect to the admission of migrant workers and taking proactive measures to manage large scale movements. 

 

It is suggested that serious consideration be given to “managed migration” programs as a practical arrangement to improve the movement of foreign labour.

 

We are convinced that “managed migration” can contribute to the advancement of migrant worker’s rights that it is replicable.

 

Our experience has shown that managed migration through formal government to government arrangements promotes co-operation and goodwill amongst participanting countries.

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                      Thank you



[1] Prepared for the Workshop on "Best Practices Related to Migrant Workers," Santiago Chile June 19‑20, 2000

[2] At present, Canada has two programs in place with Mexico and the Organization of Caribbean States.