03/27/2017 17:00 EDT | Updated 03/28/2018 01:12 EDT

Public forum shines spotlight on migrant workers' rights

When Ever Reyno first moved to Canada from the Philippines several years ago, she found herself in job where she worked 16 hours shifts without receiving pay for overtime, and worked a month straight without a day off.

"I just think about my kids back in the Philippines. I just think about doing it for my kids and my kids future," said Reyno who first worked Alberta, and later relocated to the Island.

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That's what Monday's public forum in Charlottetown was all about: highlighting the situation facing migrant workers, and the resources available to them to prevent exploitation.

For Reyno, the forum was her first time learning about her rights as a migrant worker. She now works at South Shore Seafoods in P.E.I.

"I've learned that everybody's equal with regards to the employment standards and everything else," she said. "We have all the right, even if you are temporary worker, you have the rights as … the citizens here."

The forum was hosted in conjunction by Cooper Institute, CUPE, UFCW, and KAIROS Canada at The Farm Centre in Charlottetown, and featured a panel of speakers, including Fay Faraday, a Toronto-based social justice lawyer.

Migrant workers in P.E.I.

"We know that the number of migrant workers in the country has really skyrocketed over the last decade, here in P.E.I. the same way that is has the entire country," said Faraday.

Faraday said some of the major concerns for migrant workers are about the power imbalance between workers and employers.

"That creates the possibility for deep exploitation of worker's rights while they're here," she said.

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"The majority of migrant workers that are here are working in industries that are seasonal. They would like to be able to stay but there aren't paths to permanent residence," she said.

Federal budget

While the federal government announced an increase in funding to support the continued delivery of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, Faraday said Canada still has a long way to go to improve the situations of migrant workers in the country.

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"A lot of [the budget] is focused on how quickly applications can be processed for authorizations for employers to hire migrant workers," said Faraday.

"But none of the announcements made by the federal government address the substantive concerns about the precariousness that's created in those programs."

'Decent lives for all'

 Faraday said the goal of Monday's forum is to build real links between migrant workers and members in the community.

"The ultimate goal … is to have those conversations across different parts of communities, to help build collective action, to help build support for a common vision for decent lives for all," she said.

For Reyno, she said as a temporary foreign worker, she'd like the same freedoms as Canadian citizens. 

"It's still limited for us," she said. "We cannot do whatever we want, for our good and for the good of this country."

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