Canada’s Support Against Human Rights Breaches in Qatarteam
Qatar’s questionable treatment of migrant workers tasked with building the FIFA World Cup 2022 (“World Cup”) infrastructure has reignited the debate around human rights and migrant workers’ rights. As Canada joins other nations in expressing concerns over Qatar’s human rights abuses, the article below will answer some important questions raised by the situation in Qatar, particularly: what are human rights?; and what are migrant workers’ rights in Ontario? Further, it will explain how an employment and human rights lawyer can help enforce your human and workers’ rights as a migrant worker in Ontario.
Canada’s Response to Qatar’s Human Rights Violations
In 2010, Qatar became the first country in the Middle East to win the bid for hosting the World Cup. Many hailed the move as a new dawn for the sport’s popularity in Asia. However, in the run-up to the prestigious tournament, human rights organizations have accused Qatar of violating the human rights of migrant workers.
Reports suggest that the construction firms contracted by Qatar for building the World Cup’s infrastructure subjected migrant workers to inhumane working conditions. Additionally, the workers accused authorities in Qatar of collecting illegal recruitment charges, forced labour, unpaid wages, nationality-based discrimination, overwork, and exposure to extreme health and safety risks, among other things.
With the World Cup slated to kick off later this month, Canada has joined the growing chorus of concern about Qatar’s human rights breaches. Canada has called for transparency and robust measures to protect migrant workers’ rights in Qatar. Canada Soccer, the sport’s governing body, also released a statement supporting the ongoing pursuit of further progress regarding migrant workers’ rights and inclusivity in Qatar.
As Canada bats for the migrant workers’ rights in Qatar, its strong commitment towards human rights is evident from the rights and protections available to the workers in Canada.
What are Human Rights in Canada?
Human rights are rights that every person is entitled to by virtue of their existence as a human being. These rights are inherent to every human, irrespective of race, sex, nationality, age, ethnicity, or any other status. They entitle every person to a life of equality, dignity, and respect, free from discrimination and harassment.
In Canada, human rights are protected by provincial, territorial, and federal legislation. Human rights legislation seeks to remedy the acts of discrimination and harassment committed against individuals and protect them from further discrimination. In Ontario, the Canadian Human Rights Act (“Act”) and Ontario Human Rights Code (“Code”) contain an elaborate scheme for the protection of human rights.
The Act protects individuals from discrimination based on certain prohibited grounds by federally regulated organizations. These prohibited grounds include but are not limited to race, national or ethnic origin, religion, age, colour, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, and disability.
The Code is Ontario’s provincial legislation granting equal rights and opportunities to individuals in employment, trade, services, contracts and housing without harassment, discrimination, and reprisal.
The prohibited grounds of discrimination mentioned in the Code include age, ancestry, colour, disability, race, citizenship, ethnic origin, family status, marital status, gender identity, gender expression, sex, and sexual orientation, among others.
Further Canadian workers have a statutory right to a safe work environment. Additionally, every province guarantees the workers certain minimum rights and protections in the form of employment standards legislation.
What are Migrant Workers’ Rights in Ontario?
The general rule in Canada, as well as Ontario, is that migrant workers’ rights are largely the same as domestic employees, with some exceptions. For example, farmworkers or agricultural migrant workers often work under special rules or exemptions. This is why it is important to consult an employment lawyer, so you understand your rights as a migrant worker in Ontario.
In Ontario, Canada Labour Code (“CLC”) and the Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”) set out the minimum health and safety standards to protect foreign and domestic employees against workplace hazards.
The CLC applies to federally regulated employees and employers, such as those working in telecommunication companies, banks, and inter-provincial transportation companies. In contrast, the OHSA applies to almost every provincially regulated employer, worker, supervisor, and workplace in Ontario.
Workers in Ontario have three basic rights with respect to their health and safety:
- Right to know – The employees have the right to be informed of known or likely hazards in the workplace. This right includes the employees’ right to be provided with the information, training, instruction, and supervision required to protect their health and safety.
- Right to participate – The employees have the right to participate in identifying and providing input to the employer in correcting health and safety-related concerns in the workplace.
- Right to refuse dangerous work – The employees can refuse work which they believe endangers their health or safety or that of others. While exercising their right to refuse dangerous work, employees must follow the proper procedure in the governing legislation (CLC or OHSA).
In addition to health and safety rights, foreign and domestic employees in Ontario are entitled to certain minimum rights and protections guaranteed by the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (“ESA”). These include the minimum wage, hours of work, vacation pay, public holidays and rights on termination of employment.
While not strictly human rights, the health and safety legislations mentioned above, and the ESA offer significant protection to employees from unsafe and unfair working conditions.
How an Employment And Human Rights Lawyer Can Help Enforce Your Human and Migrant Workers’ Rights
In Ontario, all foreign and domestic workers are protected under the Code. As such, migrant workers are able to commence an application with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario if one of the protected grounds have been violated.
The enforcement mechanism applicable in each case depends on the right an individual seeks to enforce and the governing legislation. For instance, an employee alleging discrimination or harassment on any ground mentioned in the Code brings an application before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. On the other hand, an employee alleging non-payment of wages, or any other ESA violation can file a claim before the Ontario Ministry of Labour.
While you may represent yourself while enforcing your human or workers’ rights, the legal process can become technical and complex. Where you might save some legal cost in bringing the claim without a lawyer, such a decision could hurt your case. Failure to bring the claim before the appropriate forum or improper pleadings may result in the dismissal of your entire claim.
An employment and human rights lawyer has the knowledge and expertise to help you determine the most appropriate forum to bring your claim. They can use their experience in navigating the legal system to guide you through the process. They can assess the facts of your case, devise a legal strategy for you and advocate for your rights.
Even if you wish to negotiate with your employer or service provider, a lawyer can help. A demand letter can be a good starting point for negotiation. The demand letter briefly mentions the facts, states your legal position, and proposes an offer to settle matters outside of Court. They are confidential resolutions of a case that are enforceable by the Court like any other contract.
No matter how you look at it, investing in an employment and human rights lawyer can be a step in the right direction to achieve your desired outcome.
Canada enjoys an international reputation as a defender of human rights. It has a strong record of protecting the civil and political rights of its diverse and multicultural population. While expressing its concerns over the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar, Canada reiterated its commitment to protecting every individual’s health, safety, dignity, and human rights.
The federal and provincial governments ensure Canada fulfils its commitment to protecting human and workers’ rights in Canada. The federal and provincial legislations protect the human rights of individuals and safeguard the workers from their employers’ excesses. These statutes contain detailed enforcement mechanisms to help the employees exercise their rights meaningfully.
An employment and human rights lawyer is a trained legal professional with experience navigating the legal system. They can use their knowledge, skills, and expertise to help you enforce your rights against your employer or service provider.
If you are an individual or an employee and want to know more about your human rights and workers’ rights, our team of experienced employment and human rights lawyers at Achkar Law can help.
If you are a small or medium-sized company looking for full-service support, check out our Chief Legal Officer (CLO) program page for our strategic solutions.