A new Canada-wide coalition of migrant workers is calling on the incoming Liberal government in Ottawa to end the practice of tying temporary foreign workers to their employers.

Representatives from four Island groups spoke at a news conference in Charlottetown Wednesday about what they say is "discrimination against migrant workers."

'It opens the door for abuse, lower salaries and degraded work conditions for all workers.' - Josie Baker, Cooper Institute

It's part of a nation-wide campaign called MoVE (Mobility, Voice, and Equality for Migrant Workers) by the Coalition for Migrant Workers Rights.  

Zenaida Angeles

Zenaida Angeles has been working in P.E.I. as a TFW for two years. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

"This campaign calls on Prime Minister [designate]

Justin Trudeau to undo the harm done by the Harper government," said Josie Baker of P.E.I.'s Cooper Institute. "Move towards a single-tier immigration system based on permanency and family reunification as a way to ensure decent work for all."

Work permits too restrictive

Baker said about 1,000 temporary foreign workers employed as caregivers and seasonal agricultural workers on P.E.I. have work permits that restrict them to working for a specific employer.

"When you have policies that in essence hold part of the workforce as captive to one employer, it opens the door for abuse, lower salaries and degraded work conditions for all workers," said Baker. 

Raymundo Yu

Raymundo Yu came to see what he could do to help. (CBC)

"I have these high hopes that eventually time will come with this MoVE campaign we can have the chance to be a permanent resident, we can have a full time time job," said Zenaida Angeles, a Philippines resident who's been working at a P.E.I. fish plant for the past two years.  

Raymundo Yu and his wife, who came to PEI 26 years ago from the Phillipines, came to find out how they can help.  

"Some we knew have experienced some difficulty in the work environment, and we don't know who to reach out [to]," said Yu. 

"At one point, one person is sleeping in the basement with dirt finish ... And one person is working five o'clock in the afternoon and come home, maybe three o'clock in the morning," said Yu. 

Calling for changes

The coalition called for changes to federal legislation, including:

  •  Making it easier for migrant workers to move between jobs. 
  •  A transition from tied work permits to open work permits.
  •  Removing four-year limits on work permits.
  •  Permanent resident status upon arrival for migrant workers.
Craig Walsh PEI UFCW

Craig Walsh with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union says if migrant workers are paying taxes here, they deserve ' the same rights as everyone else'. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

Island employers, including the seafood processing industry, have been particularly hard hit by the most recent round of changes to the federal Temporary Foreign Workers Program. 

'Fair if they want to move here'

Craig Walsh with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which is part of the coalition, said he'd like to see workers move here permanently and bring their families. 

"If they're coming and they're paying taxes and they're paying EI I think they should get the same rights as everyone else who works here," said Walsh.  

"I think it's fair if they want to move here," said Robert Godfrey with the PEI Federation of Agriculture. 

Josie Baker

Josie Baker from the Cooper Institute talks at a press conference launching the 'MoVE' campaign for migrant workers' rights. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

"We encourage Prince Edward Island especially to find a work force that's able to help us put our crops in."

"We are hopeful the new administration under Mr. Trudeau, with 32 government MPs from the Atlantic region, will be more willing and open to discuss the fair and equitable use of the program (for employees and employers) in this region, and across the country," added the P.E.I. Seafood Processors Association in a written release. 

The group's next step is to try to arrange meetings between P.E.I.'s migrant workers and all four Island MPs. 

with files from Krystalle Ramlakhan