Can We Live with the Injustice towards Migrant Workers?

It might seem that the question is, “Can you imagine the chaos that would exist if we didn’t have laws, rules and order?” I think the real question is, “Can you live with the injustices that the law perpetuates?” In the past decade, Canada’s labour market has undergone a shift to rely on temporary labour in the low-skill, low-wage sectors. This is due to labour shortages in a broad range of occupations, such as agriculture. Each of Canada’s temporary labour migration programs has its own distinct legal and policy regime that constructs migrant workers’ insecurity and functions to maintain the “temporary” status of migrant workers. The question that comes to mind is “Is it fair for the federal and provincial governments to guarantee the protection of fundamental freedoms, and to recognize labour standards and principles of fairness only for certain “categories” of people?” Justicia for Migrant Farm Workers (J4MW) has fought against this, and we should too.

There are various ways the government – through the operation of law – constructs migrant workers’ insecurity. With regards to the immigration laws and policies that shape the Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (CSAWP), migrant workers cannot access permanent residency and are considered to be “permanently temporary”. In addition, the lack of the government’s commitment to workers and the lack of government accountability in the administration of CSAWP endanger the lives of the migrant workers. The governance of the relationship between the employer and the worker is increasingly becoming privatized, which is creating more “flexibility” for the employers and more insecurity for the workers. With regards to the lack of access to citizenship, by excluding migrant workers who are participating in CSAWP from obtaining permanent residency, the nation-state has established a state of “permanent insecurity” (Neocleous 2011:192). According to Neocleous, “This need to ‘secure insecurity’ is fundamental to every aspect of capitalism” (p. 192). By establishing insecurity in the workforce, this ensures that there will always be people to take the “leftover” jobs; thereby, securing the capitalist order. According to Foucault, the fundamental objective of governmentality is setting up mechanisms of security or “state intervention with the essential function of ensuring the security of the natural phenomena of economic processes” (2009:353). In this context, the capitalist structure is secured by temporary labour because the government outsources to maintain the capitalist mode of production. The population is satisfied that they do not have to occupy these “unwanted” jobs and they also do not feel threatened by migrant workers, as they would by immigrant workers, because migrant workers are not jeopardizing their chances of obtaining a “skilled” job in the labour market. In addition, the government retracting from its commitment to the worker creates optimal conditions for the exploitation of migrant workers and therefore, contributes to the maintenance of “insecurity” of the workers.

In addition to the establishment of “permanent insecurity”, the government justifies its excessive use of power in the name of security. With regards to the immigration laws and policies that shape CSAWP, the government has successfully used law for the purpose of establishing an “other” by restricting the access to citizenship to migrant workers.  According to Dhamoon and Abu-Laban, foreignness or “othering” is legitimized through the notion of security, and is used as a tool by the state for the process of nation-building (166). A key element of nation-building is determining who is “legitimate” and “illegitimate” (166-167), and those who are considered to be illegitimate, such as migrant workers, are restricted from obtaining citizenship. The response to these “foreigners” is based on the assumption that the state will protect the nation from those who threaten “our way of life” (168). Given that migrant workers are viewed as “foreigners” because of their “temporary” status, the government is “justified”, in the eyes of the citizens, in the use of excessive power for national security purposes. By categorizing the population, the government is classifying the categories of threat. In doing so, the nation-state is producing knowledge about who are the “good citizens” and who are the threats. If the nation-state fails to know the population, it loses control over the population. As a result, the power of the nation-state will no longer be productive in that it will not produce certain conducts in society that do not disrupt the capitalist order (Starr et al. 2011). To ensure the desired conducts, the nation-state has to know its population.

Dissent is the undesired conduct that threatens the capitalist order. The nation-state needs to categorize certain groups as the “other” in order to determine who is a potential threat. By classifying migrant workers as the “other”, they are seen as a threat and therefore, potential dissenters. Due to the “flexibility” that employers have over their workers, they use this to their advantage to deter any potential worker dissent. If migrant workers complain about their “insecurity” or try to join a union, they are perceived as a threat to the status quo and to the capitalist order, and as a result, they risk deportation and blacklisting. Through the use of deportation, the nation-state is able to maintain control over migrant workers. The law is set to leave migrant workers in such a precarious situation that they cannot ask for basic fundamental human rights. Ultimately, the use of law perpetuates injustice towards migrant workers and makes any protestation on their part a criminal act.


Dhamoon, Rita and Yasmeen Abu-Laban. 2009. “Dangerous (Internal) Foreigners and Nation-Building: The Case of Canada.” International Political Science Review 30:163-83.

Foucault, Michel. 2009. Security, Territory, Population. Lectures at the College de France, 1977-1978. New York: Picador. Pp. 333-358.

Neocleous, Mark. 2011. “A Brighter and Nicer New Life’: Security as Pacification.” Social & Legal Studies 20(2):191-208.

Starr, Amory, Luis Fernandez and Christian Scholl. 2011. “What is Going On?” Pp.1-18 in Shutting Down the Streets: Political Violence and Social Control in the Global Era. New York: New York University Press.



  1. Hi dasilvaereira

    It is interesting how you used the concept of “othering” with those who are migrant workers and do not have access to the citizenship. It is true that through the use of law some groups are more privileged then others; in this case it is the migrant workers against the citizens. This notion of “othering” becomes even easier with people who do not have proper documentation, in this case the citizenship. “The governance of the relationship between the employer and the worker is increasingly becoming privatized, which is creating more “flexibility” for the employers and more insecurity for the workers”, I like how you stated this statement in your analysis, because these migrant workers are treated as a private commodity. They usually have no holidays or weekends off, and do not get paid for over time labour most of the time. One thing you did not mention is most of the migrant workers have language barrier which makes it even more difficult to file a complaint or inform the union if there is any illegal activities going on in their job. And like you said even if they do complain to the union, they will be considered as a threat to the status quo and chances of deportation would increase. These migrant workers normally have a family back home that needs to be looked after, they would be too afraid to be deported since they need the money to support their families and they are also aware that they are easily replaceable. Overall it was an interesting and informative analysis.


  2. Hi dasilvapereira,

    I enjoyed reading your critical analysis on the injustices migrant workers face. Overall, it was a very informative, thorough article that provided a significant insight to migrant workers, which is a major issue within North America. You raised an excellent question in the beginning of your article, “Can you live with the injustice that the law perpetuates?”. This is an excellent question, mainly because the “law” is supposed to be just, blind and equal. However, we continue to see many injustices, in which the law perpetuates. In addition, Canada’s labour market reflects the capitalistic ideologies putting profit and economic prosperity before worker’s rights. I strongly agree with you in regards to the unfairness in which the government guarantees the protection of fundamental freedoms and only recognizes labour standards and principles of fairness only for certain categories of people, and unfortunately this applies to Migrant workers. You did an amazing job in illustrating the various ways in which the government, through the operation of law constructs migrant workers insecurity, which I found very interesting.After reading your article, I started looking up various migrant workers protests and I came across a number of significant ones. For example, in the year 2010, Migrant workers in Guatemala raised their voices to denounce abuse and exploitation under Canada’s Temporary Foreign Workers program. In addition, migrant workers in Ontario decided to march a 50-kilometer road for better working and housing conditions. Despite the injustices Migrant workers face, I am glad that migrant workers are using “protest” and “dissent” to their advantage in order to let the public hear their voice and the issues they face. It is just a matter of questioning how much this has affected Migrant workers rights and the actions/policies of the government. I strongly agree with you, dissent is the undesired conduct that threatens the capitalist order, and I believe protest by migrant workers can greatly affect Canada’s economic order and nation-state overall. This case is very difficult; because as indicated the law itself, leaves migrant workers in such a situation that they cannot ask for basic fundamental human rights. Therefore, one must critically examine the role of the law in order to thoroughly understand the issues migrant workers face. The case of the Migrant workers, clearly illustrates a paradox, in which the law can benefit you but at the same time it can also suppress you.




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