J4MW responds to recent changes to the Agri-Food Pilot Project

The Canadian government recently announced changes to the Agri-Food Pilot Project. Changes include

-Expanding open work permit access to family members of all participants in the Agri-Food Pilot regardless of the participant’s job skill level
-Allowing unions to attest to a candidate’s work experience, as an alternative to employer reference letters
-Giving applicants residing in Canada the option to either meet the job offer requirement, including the median wage requirement for the job offer, or the education requirement, including educational credential assessment verification
-Accepting work experience gained under an open work permit for vulnerable workers, giving more workers an opportunity to qualify

Although the extension of the program, and these changes, claim to provide ‘an opportunity for more eligible candidates to apply,’ they will not address long-standing, deep-rooted structural issues in Canada’s agricultural industry. As the number of agricultural workers in Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program is set to balloon to approximately 70,000 workers, no concrete steps have been undertaken to address the power imbalance that exists between workers and bosses. Non-seasonal migrant agricultural workers, who constitute a significant number of migrants in the agricultural industry, will continue to be excluded from the Agri-Food Pilot.

Justice for Migrant Workers (J4WM) maintains that a pathways system where workers are tied to one employer continues to perpetuate an indentured labour scheme in Canada’s plantation system. While J4MW welcomes the inclusion of labour unions to attest a candidate’s work experience, in provinces such as Ontario, where the majority of migrant agricultural workers are employed, farm workers are excluded from the right to organize and the right to collective bargaining and so this is of little consequence to such farm workers.

The power imbalance means that workers are prevented from exercising their rights against wage theft, dangerous and deadly working conditions, deplorable housing, and the racial and gendered dimensions of employment under the TFWP. In addition, workers successful in obtaining a Vulnerable Open Work Permit (VOWP) continue to face multiple challenges including: time limited open permits, the inability to find employer-specific work permits, stigma associated with having this type of permit from employers, and an absence of employment support. The federal government has not undertaken any steps to address the myriad of issues raised by VOWP permit holders.

The Agri-Food Pilot feeds into Canada’s mammoth immigration industrial complex whereby the majority of agricultural workers will be exempt from the scope of this program. The costs associated with the pilot put it out of reach for most workers. Aside from exorbitant legal costs, there are multiple application fees that workers and their families must pay including: $850 to process the application and an additional $515 if an applicant is successful. For applicants who want to include their partners, it is an additional $1365, and $230 for each dependent child. This however does not include biometrics, the cost of educational assessments (for applicants who do not meet the job offer requirement), settlement funds (for applicants who are not currently working), and language tests.

J4MW has previously raised criticisms regarding the racially coded nature of the Agri-Food Pilot. This includes the discriminatory nature of language proficiency tests and the exclusion of seasonal workers, thus excluding most participants of the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program.

Canada continues to profit off of a racially-segmented labour market. The Agri-Food Pilot masks the realities that exist for farm workers. Immediate steps must be taken to ensure that workers are not tied to an employer and are accorded permanent status on arrival. Canada is simply perpetuating its long standing discriminatory practices of creating a white and wealthy elite off the sacrifices and labour of Black and Brown workers. It is shameful and appalling that we are expected to accept these types of programs when we know that many of the settlers in this country have had no such barriers – whether financially, or in terms of language, job offer, or educational requirements.

The Canadian government continues to drive a racial wedge between agricultural workers by implementing divisive pathways schemes that exclude the majority of migrant agricultural workers employed in Canada. It is imperative that the exclusion of SAWP workers and seasonal TFW workers be strongly condemned. Residency should not be incumbent on the profits of corporations but rather building communities premised on inclusion, fairness and dignity.

Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW) is a volunteer collective of activists from diverse walks of life (including current and former migrant workers, community, labour activists, educators, researchers, students and youth of colour) based in Toronto, Ontario.

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