TORONTO - Friday, July 7, 2019, the government announces a Temporary public policy for out-of-status Construction workers in the GTA.
“It’s welcome news”, said a reserved Manuel Alexandre, President of the Undocumented Workers Committee (UWC), in a telephone interview from Brampton, in response to the Department of Immigration announcement of a Temporary initiative to create a pathway to permanent residency for up to 500 out of status [undocumented] workers in the construction industry in the GTA.
It’s been a long time coming. No matter what the title, a Pilot Project is a Pilot Project. The government announcement reads like the press releases that might have been issued by Mr. Alexandre’s organization on at least two important principles that had not been acknowledged openly.
First, the Government admits that these workers “have continued to address significant labour shortages in the construction industry, while contributing to the economy and their communities.” Alexandre notes that the UWC has always maintained that there are no “freeloaders” in the group.
Secondly, the pilot project, even if temporary, admits publicly that “without immigration status, these workers and their families have lived in fear and been left feeling very vulnerable”. In Canada, said Mr. Alexandre, “this state of affairs is totally unacceptable”.
It’s high time the government took note, he added. “The UWC has been pressing the issue for several years – going back to the dark days of Kenney and Alexander – when we finally seemed to make progress with Minister John McCallum, only to have the advances reversed by Hussen”, he said.
“It’s a victory for our group and those who soldiered on with us and our legal representative, despite often questionable counter-pressures”, insisted Manuel Alexandre, even if the number of people envisaged by this initiative is small and the measure ‘temporary’”.
It is true that the number of “undocumented” workers in all fields has been estimated by government officials in the past as in excess of one million. Those specifically in the construction sector and employed in Southern Ontario are obviously much lower, though significant for a sector that screams out for increased labour availability.
The issue has been punctuated with tactics by employers, lawyers and media that, in the opinion of this writer, have the hallmarks of being ethically challenged and borderline malicious.
There have been several Pilot projects announced and annulled in the last several years – Atlantic Pilot etc. – some of them fraught with allegations of abuse and accusations of fraud unproven in Court.
Alexandre, is hopeful this one will work. “We want to be optimistic. How else could the UWC have achieved this success, even small as it seems?”
Evidently, someone has been listening.