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Historic legal victory for migrant workers’ right to employment insurance

Press release

 

Immigrant Workers Centre, Mouvement Action-Chômage de Montréal, Association of Progressive Jurists (AJP)

 

Montreal May 24, 2019

 

On May 10th, 2019, the Tax Court of Canada made a historic ruling in recognizing that temporary foreign workers can be eligible to receive employment insurance (EI) benefits, even if they have worked without a valid work permit.

 

Accompanied by the Immigrant Workers Centre, a group of approximately 18 temporary foreign workers from Guatemala appealed a decision by the Tax Court of Canada which refused to recognize that their employment was insurable under Canadian law.

 

In fact, these workers, recruited through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program were victims of fraud perpetrated by several companies in Quebec. Those companies deceived them by telling them that they could work for different employers than the one which originally hired them. However, this goes against the law.

 

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) considered that the hours they had worked were not insurable, since their work permits didn’t allow them to be employed by other companies. The CRA has systematically excluded a considerable number of unemployed migrant workers under the pretext that their employment wasn’t covered by a work permit. This exclusion exacerbates a situation of vulnerability.

 

In this precedent setting ruling, the Tax Court of Canada concluded that a work can be insurable according to the Employment Insurance Act, even if hours worked were the result of an employment undertaken without a valid work permit. According to the 48 page ruling, the CRA’s practice violates the Employment Insurance Act.

 

It considers that the prohibition to work without valid permit doesn’t necessarily imply that workers are excluded from EI, given the state’s obligation to guarantee access for all workers to public social services. As a result, the Court considers it in the public interest to recognize the important contribution of migrant workers to the Canadian economy and that it’s unacceptable to systematically exclude them.

 

The Court noted that the obligation placed on foreign workers to have a work permit in Canada is rooted historically in prioritizing Canadian citizens in labour markets. Nevertheless, in its analysis, the Court found that in the current context, “its obvious that thousands of temporary agricultural workers don’t represent a threat or obstacle to the rights of Canadian workers.”

 

The Immigrant Workers Centre, Mouvement Action-Chômage de Montréal and the Association of Progressive Jurists (AJP) want to seize this opportunity to highlight this important step forward for migrant worker rights.

 

Viviana Medina, an organizer with the IWC, said: “This historic decision doesn’t just mean justice for this group of Guatemalan workers, but also for thousands of temporary workers for whom access to social protection and labour rights is systematically denied. We also hope that this decision which emanates from a federal court obliges the Minister of Public Security to recognize that interdiction measures, which prohibit this group of workers from returning to Canada, because they worked without a work permit, are unfounded, is ridiculous and unacceptable.”

 

Jérémie Dhavernas, organizer from Mouvement Action-Chômage de Montréal, says: “It’s incredible to have to go to the Tax Court of Canada to establish a right that should already be evident. Since 1990, the Canadian state has systematically violated the rights of workers to EI, including migrants and non-migrants. We are pleased with this victory, which could possibly help in other struggles to reduce abuses suffered by migrant workers.”

 

Mr Richard-Alexandre Laniel, the workers’ lawyer and director of the AJP, affirms: “All workers, regardless of their immigration status and national origin, should have the right to state services for social protection. This ruling is even more important since it reverses a line of jurisprudence which systematically excludes temporary foreign workers without a valid work permit from EI benefits.”

 

The people below, as well as one member of the group who participated in this legal process, are available for interviews.

 

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Media contacts:
-Richard-Alexandre Laniel, Association of Progressive Jurists: 514 690 2988
-Viviana Medina, Immigrant Workers Centre: 514 342 2111
-Jérémie Dhavernas, Mouvement Action-Chômage de Montréal : 514 271-4800

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