Migrant Worker Support Network (British Columbia pilot initiative)
Canada has an obligation to protect and inform migrant workers of their rights while in Canada and to support employer compliance with the conditions of its Temporary Foreign Worker Program. To this end, it launched the Migrant Worker Support Network pilot initiative. The Network is a collaborative and migrant worker-informed platform for migrant workers, employers, governments, and civil society to develop and implement solutions to better protection and support of migrant workers in Canada.
The Migrant Worker Support Network (MWSN or “The Network”) pilot initiative addresses the need for collaborative engagement between civil society organizations and government actors to enhance the protection of vulnerable migrant workers. It was launched as part of the Government of Canada’s commitment to protect incoming migrant workers and ensure that they as well as their employers are informed of their rights and responsibilities under Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Consultations with migrant workers and their advocates reveal that this population faces unique obstacles to learning about and exercising their rights while working in Canada. In contrast to the rest of Canada’s workforce, temporary workers may face some of the following obstacles: lack of access to accurate information or community and social supports; language barriers; and geographical isolation. These challenges are exacerbated by migrant workers’ fear of reprisal in cases where they exercise their rights.
To this end, the Network, currently piloting in the Canadian province of British Columbia, provides an inclusive platform for migrant workers, employers, foreign and domestic government representatives, and civil society organizations to develop solutions from a variety of perspectives that address the key challenges faced by migrant workers. Likewise, its members seek to better support employers in complying with the requirements and conditions of Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program and responding to the unique needs of the migrant workers who they employ. In particular, Network members collaborate in working groups to develop policy, funding, and community action recommendations to respond to the lived realities faced by migrant workers in exercising their rights while in Canada. Four times per year, all members meet at the Network plenary to discuss new initiatives, share best practices, and vote to implement particular working group recommendations. To emphasize the Network’s migrant worker-centered approach, current and former migrant workers members of the Network begin each meeting by voicing their experiences and how the MWSN can better empower this population. Migrant worker participation in the Network is encouraged by hosting some meetings on times and days when workers are available and by providing language interpretation services.
The design of the Network was informed throughout an extensive six-month development phase led by the Government of Canada in consultation with key stakeholders who play a role in migrant worker protections, including migrant workers, grassroots and community-based organizations, settlement agencies, foreign governments, the Government of British Columbia, academics and legal professionals, unions and labour organizations, industry representatives, employers, and federal government representatives. During this phase, these stakeholders –current members of the MWSN – worked together to identify gaps and barriers in migrant worker protections and employer education and construct the Network’s governance model.
While still in its early stages, the Network benefits each member by providing an open and horizontal forum to bring their unique perspectives, issues, and solutions to the forefront of policy-making and community-based action as it pertains to migrant worker empowerment and employer education, particularly in propelling the voices of migrant workers into policy-making discussions. The unique funding model for the Network encourages non-profit organizations to forge partnerships and enhance the knowledge and capacity of smaller organizations to meet the needs of migrant workers and/or employers. This in turn builds trust and capacity among all members, particularly between the migrant worker and employer communities. In turn, the Network assists in preventing mistreatment through employer education and collectively supports workers experiencing wrongdoing in the workplace to exercise their rights with the help of a Network of support organizations. The early results of and lessons learned from the MWSN pilot initiative in British Columbia will inform the Government of Canada’s decision to potentially expand the Network into other provinces and territories across the country and how similar Networks can respond to the unique sectoral, geographical, and community needs to support employers and migrant workers in these jurisdictions.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The MWSN incorporates multi-sectoral collaboration and bottom-up decision-making into its activities to improve policies, programs, and activities that impact the lives of migrant workers and their employers. Migrant workers and their representatives inform Network members about how services and resources can better respond to their unique needs and empower them to exercise their rights. Consequently, Network members, who bring their expertise and sectoral perspectives, share ideas and develop solutions to address the outlined problems in a way that leverages the skills and resources of each member. This process builds consensus and solutions that are more holistic, client-centered, and needs-based, which varies from the traditional top-down consultation process whereby service users are consulted after a policy idea is proposed.
What is the current status of your innovation?
Throughout March 2019, Network members are preparing for and conducting the third set of working group meetings on the topics of 1) Education and Access to Services, 2) Addressing Retribution, and 3) Preventing and Responding to Mistreatment and Emergencies. During these meetings they will refine their preliminary list of recommendations and proposals for improving migrant worker protections before presenting them at the Network plenary meeting in April 2019 for voting and final decision-making.
At the same time, three non-profit organizations are in the process of implementing projects funded by the Government of Canada to provide information and resources to migrant workers about their rights while in Canada. One of the funding recipients is also working with community organizations to develop micro-projects to implement community-based activities that address the unique needs of migrant workers in particular regions in partnership with other organizations.
Collaborations & Partnerships
While migrant workers identify the issues that they face, community organizations leverage internal resources to assist workers with these issues, such as providing interpretation and settlement supports. Governments clarify how migrant workers can access their programs and services. Employers and industry groups identify the trials faced in employing migrant workers and complying with regulations. They also leverage their networks to find jobs for workers who leave an abusive situation.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Migrant workers have their voices heard and see their experiences reflected in the development of policies and initiatives to better support and protect them. Government actors and non-governmental actors, representing employers, settlement agencies, community groups, industry, and labour, leverage each other’s’ resources and expertise to streamline processes, reduce duplication of efforts, and build trust across sectoral lines to comprehensively respond to migrant workers’ and employers’ needs.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
An evaluation of the impacts of the Migrant Worker Support Network pilot project (launched in October 2018) will be conducted upon the completion of the pilot in March 2020.
The following results and impacts are expected:
• Service Canada inspectors will receive more allegations of employer wrongdoing from migrant workers and their representatives due to an increase in the number of workers who are provided with accurate information on their rights and how to exercise them and an increase in trust of government authorities;
• Federal government policies, programs, and services that impact migrant workers in Canada and their employers will be better tailored to address the lived realities and needs of migrant workers and the educational needs of both migrant workers and employers; and
• Civil society organizations will be more knowledgeable and financially able to provide additional resources and services to assist migrant workers with social, employment, and legal needs.
Challenges and Failures
One challenge was building consensus between Network members who hold adversarial or conflicting perspectives, particularly between migrant workers (or their representatives) and employers. This challenge was responded to by building opportunities into Network meetings for both parties to dialogue together on their concerns as well as their complementary goals in order to identify solutions that address both parties’ needs.
One failure was not providing interpretation support for migrant workers at the first set of Network meetings; as impartial interpreters were unavailable, migrant worker participants at these meetings had to rely on the interpretation provided by other Network members. This resulted in difficulties facilitating discussions between members and the potential of transmitting biased or incorrect information. This failure was addressed by hiring interpreters for all future meetings to provide impartial interpretation to migrant workers in their preferred language.
Conditions for Success
This innovation requires strong leadership and guidance, not just from a central coordinator but also from each individual stakeholder group to provide the expertise and resources that their sector has to offer. Because the diversity of views and perspectives, a strong leader and facilitator is needed to direct Network activities, motivate actors, and mediate sometimes tense and confrontational discussions.
Adequate human and financial resources are required to host, coordinate and facilitate Network meetings as well as finance projects that are recommended by the Network.
Lastly, the Network requires each member’s commitment and motivation towards empowering migrant workers to learn about and exercise their rights while in Canada, as this is the central principle upon which the Migrant Worker Support Network was founded.
The pilot initiative has not been replicated to address similar problems in other regions. However, the results of the pilot will inform the Government of Canada’s decision to potentially expand the Network to other jurisdictions across the country.
The bottom-up, multi-stakeholder approach could be replicated by other organizations or networks who are interested in developing solutions to address a particular issue through a client-centered approach, particularly for vulnerable clients.
Before replicating this innovation, future users should consider regional variations before increasing its scope. The Network model may face challenges addressing the nuances of a particular problem if its jurisdictional scope is too broad; for example, a national Network will face challenges in recommending a broad solution to address the potential issue of access to health care for migrant workers given that each province and territory in Canada regulates and administers its own health care system.
If you are designing an initiative whose success depends on the expertise, resources, and commitment of other stakeholders to participate in the project, provide opportunities for them to contribute to the design of the initiative. This will encourage their buy-in and support of the initiative’s success, and will result in a better product that takes into consideration the perspectives of multiple stakeholders. Also build in opportunities for actors from a variety of positions to take leadership roles within the initiative itself, such as being a co-chair for working group meetings. This too encourages participation and paves the way for the initiative’s sustainability.
If you can, create spaces whereby stakeholders with opposite views have to work together to resolve a problem. They may learn through dialogue that they have complementary rather than conflicting goals, which will help to foster trust and build consensus.
If your initiative is focused on addressing the needs of a particular client, particularly more vulnerable groups of clients, tailor your activities so that they are accessible to the client and put them at the centre of its design. Allow them to play an active role in the activity. For example, host meetings at times convenient for your client group, provide hospitality, transportation, and interpretation support, and provide them with opportunities to give their input through safe spaces and mediums. This maintains the integrity of the initiative and more importantly shows respect to the client, who may be taking many risks to engage in your initiative and have their voice heard.