Jenny Kwan: Migrant workers and caregivers must be protected in COVID-19 pandemic

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      Shortly after the prime minister established the cabinet committee on the federal response to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), I wrote to Deputy Prime Minister and committee chair Chrystia Freeland to advocate for migrant workers.

      As it stands, the Canadian workforce is unevenly protected from COVID-19.

      A lack of access for migrant workers to Canada’s health-care system is a significant barrier. COVID-19 does not discriminate between those who have health cards and those who do not, so the response from the government must address this. No human life is more valuable than another.

      Temporary foreign workers (TFW) must be offered the essential health-care access needed to protect their well-being.

      Health-card requirements and waiting-period requirements should be waived immediately. It is irresponsible and reckless to withhold any health-care services from workers at a time like this, and there is no time to delay in delivering this.

      While initial steps are being taken to improve access to Employment Insurance (EI), there is still no mention of where TFWs will be protected.

      It was recently announced that the one-week waiting period on accessing EI would be waived for those affected by quarantine. While this is promising, the fact remains that many workers do not even qualify.

      These changes do not come close to addressing the huge gaps in access to EI benefits for the hundreds of thousands of workers who may need them during the coronavirus outbreak.

      Health experts and government officials are encouraging people to stay home and self-isolate and people want to make the right choices to keep their communities and families safe—and everyone must have the ability to do this.

      The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the need to improve paid leave for migrant workers and to make our EI system more responsive and generous for those in precarious work positions.

      This is particularly apparent, considering that migrant workers are required by law to pay into EI, having this deducted automatically from their paycheques.

      Therefore, it only makes logical sense that they can access this benefit without difficulty. The time to act is now, and these changes must be made.

      At the provincial level, the reinstatement of paid sick days is crucial for all workers. Workers must also be provided proper rest periods and breaks and other protections that are enshrined under provincial employment-standards provisions.

      According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada data, the two umbrella programs in which temporary labour migration streams are grouped under had more than 338,600 people working under temporary work conditions as of 2018. These people will disproportionately suffer if the government does not act now.

      For weeks, New Democrats have been calling on the government to make sure no one falls through the cracks in this pressing time. As demonstrated, TFWs are a particularly vulnerable group during this time.

      We request that the government take urgent action to immediately implement increased access to health-care services, and appropriate EI benefits so that TFWs will not disproportionately suffer, and that this is communicated effectively to these groups.

      This is a time where unity is needed more now than ever. To echo the words of Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization, We cannot forget migrants, we cannot forget undocumented workers...the only way to beat coronavirus is to leave no one behind...we need to avoid exclusions as we are all in this together.”

      In addition, I am pleased to advise that the government has reacted to my concerns on the conflicting border-measures information stated by federal minister and on the Government of Canada’s website. The travel restriction as stated earlier was:

      ”For practical purposes, the denial of boarding would apply to: all foreign nationals on flights to Canada other than trans-border flights, and any foreign national on a transborder flight who has resided outside the U.S. and Canada in the last 14 days. In simple terms, you cannot board a plane to Canada if you have been outside of Canada or the United States in the last 14 days, unless you are a Canadian Citizen, Canadian Permanent Resident or in transit to a 3rd country.

      The measure will come into force on Wednesday, March 18, at 12:00 p.m. (noon) EDT. It would not apply to air crews, travellers arriving in Canada in transit to a third country, Canadian Permanent Residents, diplomats, or immediate family members of Canadian citizens.“

      The good news is that the government has updated its website. It now states that temporary foreign workers whose permanent-residence applications were approved before March 16, 2020, and their close family members can travel to Canada. 

      Jenny Kwan is the NDP MP for Vancouver East and her party's immigration, refugee, citizenship and housing critic, as well as the deputy critic for health.