Join us at the Niagara Wine Fest 23 Sept and take action

grapeandwinefest

Niagara’s billion-dollar wine and grape industry relies heavily on the skill and sacrifices of migrant workers, who are mainly from the Caribbean and Mexico. Their economic and social impact is far reaching, yet they remain invisible and excluded from today’s celebration.

Since 1966, thousands of migrant workers have been employed in Ontario’s fields and greenhouses. Migrant workers are tied to an employer, are denied labour and social mobility and must return home when their contracts end. Even though they pay into Canada’s social safety net, migrant workers are denied many of the basic entitlements Canadians enjoy. If we peel back the veil, we can see the wealth of local wineries and vineyards occurs on the backs of unfree workers.

When migrant workers are injured or sick they are often sent home, thus downloading healthcare costs to the families of the sick and injured. Many of these workers are no longer able to work after sustaining injuries and sicknesses while working in Canada. Between 2001-11, 787 migrant farm workers were returned to their countries of origin due to illness or injury — 98% of these repatriations were not based on workers’ requests.

Dozens of migrants have died as a result of working conditions on farms. These include the deaths of migrant farm workers such as Ned Livingston Peart, Sheldon McKenzie, Omar Graham and  Ezequiel Cervantes-Nava, all of whom died from preventable workplace accidents. To date, there has never been a coroner’s inquest into the death of a migrant farm worker anywhere in Canada.

Farm workers are not entitled to overtime pay, holiday pay or many other protections under Ontario’s Employment Standard Act. Few protections exist for farm workers from pesticides, chemicals or dangerous working conditions.

TAKE ACTION:

Phone and/or email your Member of Parliament (click here to find them by your postal code), and CC J4mw.on@gmail.com. You can also tweet @AhmedDHussen and @PattyHajdu.
Ask them to support:

  1. Landed status on arrival for all migrant workers;
  2. Equal access to all social programs (including Employment Insurance)
  3. Ending the unilateral repatriations of migrant workers, and implementing an appeals process so migrant workers aren’t simply deported because an employer says so.

Phone and or email your MPP. Ask them to ensure:

  1. Both occupational health & safety and employment standards are modernized to protect the rights of low-wage migrant workers.
  2. Random spot-checks at farm sites and employer-provided accommodations.
  3. Access to provincial health insurance on arrival, stopping the practice of medical repatriations whereby sick and injured  migrants are sent home, and ending discriminatory workers compensation practises that deny migrant workers equal access to benefits.

UPDATE and call-to-action with Kevon Smith:

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Thanks to the 45 people who donated in solidarity with injured migrant worker Kevon Smith over the past three days, the Workplace Safety & Insurance Board (WSIB) felt intense pressure to re-examine Kevon’s case. They have now allowed full compensation while he waits for his surgery. Kevon is grateful for everyone’s show of solidarity and generosity. The fundraiser is now closed.

But helping injured workers should never be a matter of charity.

Kevon should never have been obligated to make a desperate and public appeal for funds. The WSIB should have done the right thing before this public pressure. Beyond Kevon’s case, the WSIB continues to deny hundreds of injured workers the support they critically need and deserve.

Please email the office of the President of WSIB. Tell him:

  •  Workers are not disposable;
  • The WSIB should ensure they give injured migrant workers like Kevon the choice and the financial means to stay in Ontario for health care for their workplace injuries.

Please send emails to Tom Teahen, President and CEO, via Steve Jackson: Steve_jackson@wsib.on.ca. Please feel free to CC us: j4mw.on@gmail.com.

URGENT call for solidarity with injured apple worker Kevon Smith

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We are calling on supporters of Justice for Migrant Workers to please show solidarity through your material resources through the following Go Fund Me campaign: https://www.gofundme.com/helpforkevon

Kevon Smith, a migrant worker and father of five, suffered serious injuries while working on a apple farm near Simcoe, Ontario.

After his workplace injury, Kevon’s employer attempted to send him back to Trinidad and Tobago. Kevon knew this was not right, resisted and remained in Canada to access health care for his injuries and fight for  workers’ compensation from the WSIB.

Kevon’s doctors told him he will likely need surgery, but WSIB still refuses to provide him the financial support that would enable him to get it.

IAVGO Community Legal Clinic is helping Kevon challenge this unfair decision, but his status as a migrant worker excludes him from accessing other forms of income support programs. This means that at the moment he is far from home, severely injured and virtually penniless.

We are asking if you can provide some financial support as soon as possible to help Kevon with living costs through this crisis. He needs the funds now and will be able to access it within days of your donation.

Kevon is the sole breadwinner for himself and his young family.  This crisis has made them destitute. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Take Action in Solidarity with Migrant Farm Workers!

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The New York Times just published Foreign Farmworkers in Canada Fear Deportation if they Complain focusing international attention on Canada’s shameful exploitation of foreign workers. Participants in Canada’s migrant farm worker program courageously shared their stories with the NYT, which include medical repatriations, horrific housing and working conditions, and pressure from government officials not to complain.

The article implicates both the Canadian and foreign governments for failing to oversee working conditions and for denying migrant workers the same rights and protections as Canadians. Problems with Canada’s low-wage migrant worker program have been well documented by advocates, researchers, and media, but after the Trudeau government commissioned a review of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in 2016, it recommended  virtually no changes for the farm worker streams. Further, provincial governments often shirk responsibility by pointing out that the migrant worker program is federally administered. It’s time for all levels of  government to recognize the serious problems with the migrant farm worker program and commit to ensuring the same rights and protections for all workers in Canada.

Amidst the bald-faced white supremacy we’re seeing today, many people ask us how they can show solidarity with racialized low-wage migrant workers. Here are four easy things you can do:

  1. Share the article on social media, and tweet it to @AhmedDHussen and @PattyHajdu.

  2. Phone and/or email your Member of Parliament. Ask them to support:

    1. Landed status on arrival for all migrant workers;

    2. Equal access to all social programs (including Employment Insurance)

    3. Ending the unilateral repatriations of migrant workers, and implementing an appeals process so migrant workers aren’t simply deported because an employer says so.

    4. Migrant worker protections under the NAFTA renegotiation.

  3. Phone and or email your MLA/MPP. Ask them to ensure:

    1. Both occupational health and safety and employment standards are modernized to protect the rights of low-wage migrant workers.

    2. Random spot-checks at farm sites and employer-provided accommodations.

    3. Access to provincial health insurance on arrival, stop the practice of medical repatriations whereby sick and injured  migrants are sent home, and end discriminatory workers compensation practises that deny migrant workers equal access to benefits.

  4. Fill out A Food Policy for Canada survey by 31 Aug. Demand that migrant and workers’ rights be prioritized as part of Canada’s national food policy (mention the bullet points above).

In solidarity,

Radical Action with Migrants in Agriculture & Justice for Migrant Workers

NY Times slams Canada’s migrant farm worker scheme

Photo of Erika Zavala harvesting carrots on an organic farm in Cawston, British Columbia. Photo Credit Ruth Fremson of the NY Times.

Erika Zavala, 32, a seasonal worker from Mexico, weeding rows of plants in the organic carrot farm where she works near Cawston, British Columbia. Credit Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Migrant farm workers from BC and Ontario asserted their strength by sharing their struggles with an international audience. Today’s New York Times article by Dan Levin explains how Canada’s migrant farm worker scheme invites dangerous, unhealthy and exploitative conditions for migrant farm workers by its very design.

“This program is a form of apartheid,” said Chris Ramsaroop, an organizer with Justicia for Migrant Workers, a labor rights organization based in Ontario.

“Migrant workers are employed and live under a different set of legal rights than Canadians,” Mr. Ramsaroop added. “The very existence of temporary foreign worker programs enables the Canadian government to deny basic freedoms and protections as a result of their immigration status.”

 

Although they aren’t mentioned in the article, hats off to our friends at Radical Action with Migrants in Agriculture (especially Amy Cohen) for helping bring this piece to light.

This criticism by international media — which is underpinned by decades of research and advocacy — shows that justifications for Canada’s migrant farm worker program are wearing thin in the public eye.

What’s missing in media coverage of the new Auditor General report on the TFWP

Photo of Auditor General Michael Ferguson by Adrian Wyld, Canadian Press.

Michael Ferguson, Auditor General. Photo: Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press: http://bit.ly/2qgk5U1

On May 16th, Michael Ferguson, the Canadian Auditor General, released a new report on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). Much of the media coverage on the report has missed some key points. Some coverage has also risked pitting migrant workers against unemployed and marginalized residents of Canada, particularly Indigenous peoples.

To be clear, migrant workers do not lower wages or steal jobs. Inadequate wages, unemployment and a lack of employment equity occur because of specific state and capitalist policy choices. The absence of standards or enforcement is a policy choice, too. In the case of low-wage streams of the TFWP, governments create policies that allow capitalists (aka employers) to access racialized, unfree and deportable workers from the Majority World. Consequently, workers have weak workplace bargaining power and can’t easily demand better wages and working conditions.

In response to the report and mainstream media coverage, we suggest the following points and questions :

  • Growth of agricultural streams of the TFWP: While the number of migrant workers in other streams has decreased in recent years, agricultural migrant workers have skyrocketed
    • e.g. in 2014, there were 47,477 migrant worker positions approved in Primary Agriculture — this is a rough proxy for the number of migrant farm workers. In 2015, there were 53,303 positions approved.
  • Xenophobia: Media articles that frame migrant workers as stealing jobs from Canadians are dangerous, inaccurate and irresponsible. Worldwide, we have witnessed the alarming effects of fomenting xenophobic sentiment, and particularly in the wake of Brexit and the Trump election.
  • Decrease in # of ‘low-skilled’ migrant workers: The report cites a massive decrease in the number of ‘low-skilled’ workers following Conservative Party reforms to the TFWP.
    • What happened to these people? How many were deported, repatriated, are still here, transitioned to permanent residency, sought other forms of immigration status ie student, other occupation, refugee status, etc.?
  • The role of CIC and CBSA: The report only examines Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), but neglects to consider the role of Citizenship and Immigration Canada and Canada Border Services Agency, both of which play a key role in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
  • Agricultural exceptionalism: There is no discussion on why there has not been any greater scrutiny of the agriculture sector.
  • Workers are people: The report treats migrants as mere economic units, rather than human beings with individual and collective rights.
  • Recruiters: The report speaks to employment recruitment efforts without examining the role of third party recruitment agencies in bringing migrant workers.
  • Precaritization of jobs: The report provides commentary about the hiring of marginalized people without considering broader trends in the precaritization of employment (i.e. insecure, low-wage, unprotected and informal jobs with limited or no benefits)
  • Timing and industry: The report does not examine the time spent by migrant workers in Canada. Specifically, the report examines Labour Market Impact Assessment approval without examining the labour attachment of these TFW’s to the industries they worked in.
  • Four-and-Four: How did the Four-in-and-Four-Out Rule impact migrant workers in low-skill streams of the TFWP? How many were forced to return to their countries of origin, despite the eventual rescinding of this rule?
  • EI: For those workers who collected EI, how many were able to access special or regular benefits? How many claimed benefits as a result of termination, abuse or job conflict?
    • Members of the public and advocacy groups have requested EI data on the TFWP for years, only to be told that a breakdown does not exist. The report shows it does exist.
  • “Risk-based approach”: The report discusses the use of a “risk-based approach” to workplace inspections. What does this look like, how was it developed and how will it be implemented?
  • Fed-provincial: With respect to federal-provincial agreements on the TFWP, only one province has signed this with the federal government. Migrant workers must be actively included as part of deliberating on these agreements.
  • Inspections: the numbers of inspections are shocking — 4,900 paper inspections and 173 onsite inspections, only 13 of which have been completed.
  • Reprisals: What steps will the federal and provincial governments take to protect workers who are terminated or lose jobs because they assisted with investigations?
  • Exploitation by design: Extreme cases of abuse are of course a problem, but the Auditor General doesn’t comment on how the Temporary Foreign Worker Program invites exploitation by design because of the fundamental structure of the program — driven by employers, with workers tied to their employer.
  • Performance measurement strategy: The report states that ESDC has now developed a “performance measurement strategy” to assess the impact of the TFWP on the Canadian labour market.
    • What are the metrics used for this measurement? Will this strategy ensure the rights of all workers are upheld, especially those of migrant workers?

Art and Tomatoes

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Art and Tomatoes by Tzazná, Queso and Rathika is now on display at The Public Window Gallery in Toronto and is not to be missed. Presented in conjunction with the Mayworks Festival of Working People and the Arts, this visual exhibition and public installation highlights and reflects on the Harvesting Freedom caravan.

Events

  • Opening Reception & Festival Party: May 1, 7 pm – 10 pm, Steelworkers Hall, 25 Cecil St (register here)
  • Exhibitions:
    • April 8 – May 30, The Public Window Gallery, 58 Lansdowne Ave
    • April 24 – May 19, Steelworkers Hall, 25 Cecil St
    • May 1 – 28, Whippersnapper Gallery, 594b Dundas St W
  • Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1933331696890529/ 

Artist statement

By Tzazná + Queso
2016 was the 50th year of the migrant farmworker program. 50 years of workplace abuse, accidents, deaths, and of black and brown people putting food on our tables yet actively being excluded from our communities. It also marks 50 years of farmworker survival and resistance in the face of repressive immigration, labour and housing laws. The Harvesting Freedom Caravan (HFC) was launched by Justice For Migrant Workers (J4MW) to mark this anniversary and call for permanent residence for farmworkers and all migrant workers in this stolen land we call Canada. J4MW is a political collective made up of mostly migrante women and people of colour who are farmworkers, unpaid organizers and allies. This exhibit is a way of giving back to the workers and community members who supported the HFC and continue to fight for fair working and living conditions.

Tomatoes have a long relationship with the farmworker movement. It was a wildcat strike of tomato pickers 16 years ago in Leamington, Ontario – the “Tomato Capital of Canada” – that gave rise to this movement (as memorialized in J4MW’s logo). The visual identity of the HFC was based on images taken in Leamington by farmworker organizers. Campaign materials evoke the fields sowed with tomatoes, vegetables, and tobacco, and the raised fists of workers who toil and resist. Hundreds of red bandanas were used by farmworkers to protect against reprisals and deportations. The oversized vegetables and giant red fabric tomato disrupted daily life as the caravan crossed Ontario. Additionally there are pieces of new original artwork by community artists that were involved in the campaign.

The campaign brought up very important issues around work, racism and immigration; however the fight against sexism and homophobia within the movement was invisible, with some organizers feeling that they had to hide their gender/sexual identity. Like many movements, this one struggles with how to include those issues in the continuous work. In that context, building this project from the young, female/gender nonconforming, queer perspective of the curators is itself an act of resistance and of taking up space.

 

Update on fire fundraiser

fire1Spring has arrived, and many of our brothers and sisters on the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program are returning to southern Ontario. We thought we would take this opportunity to provide an update on a story that happened at the tail end of last year’s season.

On the morning of July 29, 2016, 32 migrant farmworkers from Jamaica lost all their belongings when a fire destroyed their bunkhouse in Mount Pleasant, Ontario. All they were left with were the clothes on their backs.

Justice for Migrant Workers made repeated trips to Mount Pleasant to meet with those who were affected by the fire and to assess the situation. Some of the workers were preparing a shipment of items to send back home to family in Jamaica. However the fire destroyed everything. Tools, passports, and other items were all lost. Some workers also reported that they lost their savings, as they didn’t have bank accounts in Canada and kept all their money in the bunkhouse.

A GoFundMe page was started, and donations also poured in from the community. The total amount raised for our brothers in Brantford reached $21,984. Just over half that amount was raised online, while a very special donation of $10,000 was received from the Jesuit Refugee and Migrant Service.

fire2In October 2016, just before the workers returned home at the end of the season, two Justicia volunteers traveled to Brantford and provided each of the 32 workers with cheques for $687. The gratitude was overwhelming, and important bonds were built which will hopefully last through many seasons to come.

An additional victory was the announcement that the Jamaican consulate would waive all fees associated with replacing the passports. This came after steadfast pressure from Justicia and other groups standing in solidarity with the workers.

Next steps

Migrant farmworkers are employed in one of the most marginalized and oppressed sectors of Canadian society. The Supreme Court of Canada has recognized their work as being some of the most dangerous there is. As migrants they face additional risks due to their precarious status in Canada, the fact that they’re not permitted to unionize, and their social isolation. Yet despite this they work hard to put Ontario produce on the plates of families across our province and beyond, typically without ever receiving adequate recognition or gratitude.

We were proud to have enabled community assistance in this situation, and we encourage everyone to continue with support and advocacy throughout 2017.

The dirty dozen: 12 ways Canadian immigration policy reinforces Islamophobia, white supremacy and racism

16426161_10155545963911393_7684797682539547751_nIn preparation for tomorrow’s event Against Islamophobia and White Supremacy, we prepared a handy listicle on 12 ways Canadian immigration policy reinforces Islamophobia, white supremacy and racism. Check out the dirty dozen here.

As the Globe and Mail’s Denise Balkissoon describes (drawing on Robin DiAngelo), white supremacy isn’t just about the KKK or neo-nazis. Instead, it describes “the entrenchment of whiteness as the sun around which other, inferior cultures revolve.” This often involves what George Lipsitz calls “possessive investments in whiteness.” In the context of Canadian immigration, white supremacy means assuming that the real, core identity of the nation-state is made up of white people of European descent (and brushing off the ongoing legacy of colonialism and Indigenous dispossession). Anti-racist feminist scholars like Sunera Thobani have analyzed how the project of multiculturalism in Canada still ultimately protects white supremacy.

With all of this in mind, please join us tomorrow and across the country in saying “Enough is enough.” 

Together, we say “no” to walls and bans against Muslims and refugees on stolen Indigenous lands. Please join actions across Canada against xenophobic, anti-Black, Islamophobic, anti-refugee, racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic policies.

TORONTO ACTION DETAILS

Date: Saturday, February 4th
Time: 12noon – 2:30 PM
Location: US Consulate (360 University Ave)
Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/407436779648169/

Click here for the full list of actions across Canada.

Enough is enough. Please join National Days of Action Against Islamophobia and White Supremacy

16426161_10155545963911393_7684797682539547751_nEnough is enough. 

Together, we say “no” to walls and bans against Muslims and refugees on stolen Indigenous lands. Please join actions across Canada against xenophobic, anti-Black, Islamophobic, anti-refugee, racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic policies.

TORONTO ACTION DETAILS

Date: Saturday, February 4th
Time: 12:30 PM – 2:30 PM
Location: US Consulate (360 University Ave)
Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/407436779648169/

Click here for the full list of actions across Canada.

We stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter-Toronto and others in demanding the following:

1) The Canadian government must make an immediate public condemnation of the executive order by President Trump that bans Muslim visa-holders from seven countries and also bans all refugees from entering the US.

2) Canada must immediately open the Canada-USA border.

This includes revocation of the Safe Third Country Agreement which bars most refugee claimants entering from the United States over land to claim asylum in Canada. The Designated Country of Origin list, which makes it almost impossible for US citizens and citizens of forty other countries to claim asylum in Canada, must be eliminated.

3) Canada must end racist, anti-refugee, anti-Black, Islamophobic exclusion of migrants and refugees within this colonial border.

This includes ending the system of indefinite immigration detention. The federal government must create a regularization program so that all undocumented residents can live here with their families rather than fear mass deportation. Migrant workers in Canada must also be given permanent status and open work permits. We want real, not symbolic, sanctuaries that guarantee access to services and refuse collaboration with Canadian and American border agents.

4) Canada must rescind all federal legislation that attacks racialized Black and Brown Muslims and refugees, including the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act as well as anti-terror legislation such as Security Certificates and Bill C51.