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The Charter of the French language and its regulations govern the consultation of English-language content.
June 4, 2021Letters and speeches

The Charter also applies to temporary foreign workers

The Commission is very concerned about recent developments regarding the rights of temporary foreign workers in Québec, particularly with respect to their housing conditions.

Open letter for publication by Philippe André-Tessier, President of the Commission.

The Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse is very concerned with the recent news about the rights of temporary foreign workers in Quebec who contribute to our economy, specifically regarding their housing conditions.

Although the rules governing housing for temporary foreign workers are clearly deficient and complex jurisdictional roles make it difficult to assign responsibility, the Commission considers, however, that the current situation is a symptom of broader systemic discrimination that it has been denouncing for more than a decade.

Indeed, in an opinion adopted in 2011, the Commission concluded that low skilled temporary foreign workers coming to Canada were victims of systemic discrimination based on ethnic or national origin, “race”, social condition and language. This discrimination arises from the severe vulnerability situation that these workers are in due to, among other things, their isolation and their dependence on their employer. The Commission also noted that “this vulnerability, this precarity as we understand it, is the result of a system which contributes to the failure to respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of migrant workers.”

While numerous modifications have been made to the immigration programs that bring these workers into Canada since the publication of the Commission’s opinion, most notably the revision of the Act respecting labour standards in 2018, many of its conclusions are still valid and relevant. Moreover, the Commission believes that the implementation of the recommendations it put forward at the time, and repeated many times since, could contribute to ensuring better protection of the rights of these individuals.

The Commission deplores particularly the absence of a mechanism to review the termination of employment before the end of the work contract, which along with the closed work permit, is one of most important factors contributing to the vulnerability of temporary foreign workers. In addition to compromising the right to personal security and freedom guaranteed by the Charter, it also makes it extremely difficult for workers to pursue any of the recourses available through the different protective regimes established by employment law (labour standards, occupational health and safety, rights and freedoms, unionization). For this reason, the Commission recommended, in 2011, the establishment of a review process by an independent body of all decisions liable to lead to the repatriation of a worker.

Temporary foreign workers are often hesitant to file complaints because they fear being fired without being able to work for another employer until they can obtain a new work permit, being blacklisted, or worse, being unilaterally repatriated by their employer. This is the case not just for their housing conditions, but also their living and working conditions.

This situation is susceptible to compromising the exercise, in full equality, of their right to dignity, their right to respect of private life, their right to the free disposition of property, their right to an inviolable home, and their right to fair and reasonable conditions of employment which have proper regard for their health, safety and physical well-being. These rights are guaranteed by Quebec’s Charter of human rights and freedoms, and all foreign workers who are in Quebec, even temporarily, can assert them.

It is for this reason that the Commission repeats today its recommendation calling for the government to create temporary immigration programs which provide open work permits to temporary foreign workers, that it prohibit unilateral repatriations by employers, and that it put in place proactive measures for the monitoring of employers by the bodies responsible for the enforcement of employment law.

The contribution of temporary foreign workers to the Quebec economy is now well-established. They play an essential role and it is the collective responsibility of Quebec society to ensure that their working, living and housing conditions allow for the full respect of their rights.

Philippe-André Tessier, President
3 June 2021