MRCC – serving migrant workers

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Migrant Resource Center Canada (MRCC) started as a group of worker organizers and social justice activists that developed from the forums and panel discussions held by various groups to tackle OFW and other immigrant issues. The meetings and  interactions were, initially, in the nature of  casual conversations and social gatherings that  soon led to support group formations, particularly, on migrant issues and concerns.

A Toronto-based registered non-profit migrant service institution, MRCC has  the following objectives which it pursues in promoting the rights and welfare of migrants and immigrant workers living and working in Canada, namely, 1)  to create education and workshops aimed at developing the capacity of people’s movements and workers associations; 2) to provide free and up-to-date information about labor, immigration and social services; and  3) to engage in research and advocacy by partnership with various institutions to advance the plight of workers and clients.

The organization  provides information and counselling on immigration, labor and health concerns of both migrants and immigrant workers.  It  also engages in research in partnership with post-secondary institutions that raise awareness on policies and concerns affecting  the lives of migrants and newcomers entering Canada.

On the founding of MRCC, Bern Jagunos, MRCC current chair recollects: “It was the case of Gemma Geronimo, a caregiver  who was a victim of illegal recruitment that sparked the need to put up a service institution. She approached Migrante Canada asking for a legal assistance to help her because she was being deported back to the Philippines.  There are service institutions in Canada but they only serve those with legal papers. The need for an institution to provide services that are not available to undocumented or those without legal papers like Gemma is not available in Canada. That is the gap that is being filled in by MRCC.”

As organizers we saw the need to establish a migrant service institution that is led by the workers and is centred on empowering the people we organize with.  Our vision is to have a physical space where can go to and bring their issues particularly those who have no legal papers. They are the ones that do not have access to services such as health , legal and even trainings and workshops that can give them education on their rights and welfare.

Jesson Reyes, MRCC Managing Director

The son of OFW parents, Jesson was drawn to community organising as a young worker which helped enlighten him on the realities of migrant struggles. Both his parents who worked as professionals in the Middle East had to take on harder jobs  when they moved to Canada in 2001.

For her part, Mithi Esguerra, as MRCC Program Manager, observes, “With the current shift to temporary work as well as the constant changes in the Caregiver Program and immigration policies including those involving international students becoming victims of fraudulent recruitment, I think MRCC should throw down the gauntlet as migrants continue to challenge the government indecisiveness towards the rights and welfare of all migrant workers in Canada.”

The enduring purpose and goal of MRCC, of course, is towards elevating the conditions and the quality of life of migrant workers and immigrants OFWs who have now found home in Canada.  As migrants’ issues are raised or continue to be brought to the attention of MRCC – one of the recent ones, for instance, involve the death of a Filipino temporary worker who was crushed to death by a machine he was cleaning at North York industrial bakery Fiera Foods, it became more obvious that more focus should be given to education and empowerment. 

Sol Pajadura, chairperson of Migrante Canada  and who sits as treasurer of MRCC believes that with MRCC , workers can now avail of trainings and information that they need in order to know their rights while working in Canada whether they be documented or undocumented, caregivers, temporary workers, skilled or unskilled and those in precarious works.

How can the owner of Fiera Foods turn a blind eye to the death of his own employee?

Sol Pajadura, chairperson Migrante Canada

To address the growing number of incidents involving migrant workers,  MRCC has recently been granted funding from federal government for its project called Immigrants and Migrants Participating for Collective Transformation (IMPACT). The Impact project is a seventh-month long project aimed at organizational building capacity specifically targeted at improving the lives of migrant workers and their families through various available seminars and trainings on  topics such as immigration policies and labor laws, social services, civic literacy and engagements, writing for empowerment and public speaking.

Kota Kimura, organizer and social justice activist joined MRCC as a Project Staff and now spearhead the IMPACT project thinks that empowering workers through various trainings and workshops that IMPACT project will provide should be a good start to collectivize their voices and get them organized.

Currently,  there are about 286,000 Filipino migrants in Toronto. A lot of  other issues that need to be addressed include illegal recruitment, unsafe working conditions, work harassments and unjust wages and long hours of work without pay and a whole lot of legal issues.

Renting an office space at Dufferin in West end Toronto,  MRCC looks ahead with enthusiasm and a positive outlook even as it looks for more resources to maintain its operation. “Fundraising and sustaining our work is the tough row to hoe but then again we’ve been to teething troubles but managed to overcome them. We’ll just keep on going in the service of the migrant workers,” Managing Director Jesson Reyes declares with confidence.

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