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Strategic litigation


DTMF-RHFW’s constitutional class action

About our action

END MIGRANT WORKER UNFREEDOM is a constitutional class action launched by DTMF-RHFW – a class action brought with the intention of bringing about important societal change and, at the same time, obtaining fair compensation for the individuals whose constitutional rights have been violated by the State.

The action aims to end – and obtain compensation for the harms done by – measures that bind workers to specific employers, on the basis that these measures are violations of workers’ constitutional rights to liberty, security of the person and life, to not be subjected to cruel treatment, and not to be discriminated on the basis of the country of origin – and cannot be justified in a free and democratic society.

The problem

Every year Canada admits thousands of individuals into the country under foreign worker status, many of whom are employed in private households and on farms. These individuals face one or more measures restricting their right to resign and change employers – such as employer(s)-specific work permits or standard work contracts with clauses tying them to a specific employer in the country.

If the employment relationship ends with the employer-sponsor (or group of employers-sponsors), the individual’s right to work in Canada is automatically revoked.1 As such, workers tied to their employers are radically hesitant to quit or take any action that could put their jobs at risk. This includes declining unsafe work, demanding the respect of the contract or reporting a right violation.

Since employer-tying measures impose such serious consequences on workers that quit or resign (such as the risk of not being able to renew their work permit), these workers de facto end up, according to North American jurisprudence, in a legal condition of servitude.

In broader terms, when foreign worker admission programs incorporate employer-tying measures, they result in the consolidation of an unfree labour system, characterized by the reduced applicability of human rights, employment, labour, immigration, tax and anti-trust legislations – and a diminished application of the Rule of Law. 

The particular susceptibility of employer-tied migrants to human rights abuses has been consistently recognized over the past decades by several U.N. agencies and human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Recently, a UN Special rapporteur confirmed that Canada’s closed work permit system constitutes a “breeding ground” for contemporary forms of slavery. Furthermore, the legality of work permits restricted to specific employers has been challenged in court before, in 2006. In a unanimous ruling, it was held that tied permits represent an unjustifiable and, therefore, unlawful infringement on fundamental rights.

Kav LaOved Worker’s Hotline v. Government of Israel

Why a constitutional class action?

Despite evidence of their devastating impact on workers’ rights, acknowledged in Canada by tribunals, rights commissions, and parliamentary committees, the federal government has up to now refused to end employer-tying measures – and in particular, to replace restricted work authorizations with open work permits for all workers.  A constitutional class action is an effective way to obtain compensation for the individuals knowingly harmed by unconstitutional policies, to put an end to ongoing human rights violations and to educate current and future governments around the world.

30-min YouTube video – Why challenging closed permits in court

Our objective

RHFW’s constitutional class action holds historical and global significance. Employer-tied worker admission programs are on the rise, in Canada and worldwide. An action forcing Canada to acknowledge that employer-tying measures violate fundamental rights and to compensate for the harm done is a crucial step towards their abolition once and for all.  The “End Migrant Worker Unfreedom” action has the capacity to trigger a substantial shift in paradigm, both in Canada and abroad.

Action status

The “End Migrant Worker Unfreedom” project constitutes a multi-year endeavour encompassing extensive preparation, including exhaustive legal and social science research, and constitutional argument development. On September 14, 2023, RHFW took a significant step forward by filing for authorization for a constitutional class action, officially initiating proceedings in court.

Moving forward, one of our permanent focus will be on consolidating the project finances, a crucial element to ensure optimal collaboration with the litigation team and, thus, the success of the action.

News & updates

Association for the Rights of Household and Farm Workers (DTMF-RHFW)

1340 St Joseph Blvd E,
Montréal, Québec
H2J 1M3

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