More than #MeToo is needed to protect migrant workers and immigrant women

Migrant workers are uniquely vulnerable to the threat of sexual violence in the workplace. For them, speaking out typically means one thing — a plane ticket back to their country of origin.
Chris Ramsaroop, a workers' rights activist and labour organizer, and human rights lawyer Grace Vaccarelli. (Mark Bochsler/CBC; Lisa Xing/CBC​ )
Listen26:50

The #MeToo movement is being hailed as a turning point for women in the workplace. Women are speaking up about sexual harassment, and as a result, the careers of some powerful men in politics, media and entertainment, have come to a screeching halt.

But there are many working women for whom the #MeToo movement is doing little or nothing at all.

That's perhaps most true among the hundreds of thousands of temporary foreign workers and immigrant women who are uniquely vulnerable to the threat of sexual violence in the workplace.

Without labour mobility, how can you speak up? As a migrant worker, you just cannot do it. You're repatriated, you're kicked out.- Grace Vaccarelli

Their stories of abuse are harrowing, and because of language, personal and economic circumstances, they face major barriers — and often serious threats — if they complain.

The Sunday Edition host Michael Enright spoke with two human rights advocates about the challenges migrant workers and immigrant women face, and what needs to change to protect them from sexual abuse and harassment.

Grace Vaccarelli is a human rights lawyer and the manager of Legal Services at Ontario's Human Rights Legal Support Centre.

She says that, for migrant workers, confronting the boss can mean being sent back to their country of origin — and failing the family members back home who depend on their Canadian wages.

"Without labour mobility, how can you speak up?" she asks. "As a migrant worker, you just cannot do it. You're repatriated, you're kicked out. No employer's going to want you back, and the program may not want you, because you're a complainer."

Migrant workers and organizers embarked on a month-long caravan in October 2016, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program. The campaign called on the Trudeau government to grant permanent immigration status upon arrival for migrant farmworkers. (Courtesy Justice for Migrant Workers)
Advocates are calling for changes to laws that bind migrant workers to a single employer. They also say that proactive inspections of companies using foreign workers are needed, and that the media and the public should pay more attention to the problem.

Chris Ramsaroop is a workers' rights activist and labour organizer, and one of the founders of Justice for Migrant Workers.

He tells Michael Enright that the public has a duty to be confrontational, so that migrant worker issues aren't simply erased. 

"We have an obligation to those workers when they want to speak out, that we show solidarity — that we're there to support them, and to fight with them."

Click 'listen' above to hear the full interview.



Justice for Migrant Workers can be reached by email at j4mw.on@gmail.com, or through twitter @j4mw. There is more information, and contact information for assistance for migrant workers across Canada, on their website.

In Ontario, the Human Rights Legal Support Centre provides free advice and assistance in many languages to people suffering harassment and discrimination in the workplace, housing, services and contracts. They can be reached at 866-625-5179 or 416-597-4900 or at hrlsc.on.ca.

The British Columbia Human Rights Clinic provides free assistance to people with human rights questions and complaints. They can be reached at 604-622-1100 or toll free at 1-855-685-6222. More information is also available at bchrc.net.