Spring 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.
In 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.
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.