As leaders of CARICOM meet with Canadian officials in Ottawa during their annual summit, J4MW strongly critiques the absences of labour discussions at this week’s summit.
Collectively, CARICOM leaders send thousands of workers to work on Canadian farms and other industries. These workers have been raising concerns about their working conditions for decades and yet little has changed.
J4MW takes this opportunity to share the following open letter from a group of Caribbean migrant farm workers employed under the Commonwealth Seasonal Agricultural Workers program.
From the workers:
We are a group of workers from a farm near Brantford, Ontario. We are the ones growing the food that Canadians eat, and the food that is shipped outside of Canada to make profits for farmers. We worked Thanksgiving, like we do every other day, and we were not paid extra money. We have left our children, spouses, parents, siblings, friends and other loved ones to come here. The money we make supports their lives, education, and well-being. We are here working in Canada so they can have better lives.
We want to share what we have experienced at this farm during our time working in Canada. We are all workers who are trying to make a better life, but it’s like we are doing worse in Canada because it’s no better than what we left back home. You have to work very hard to get the money. We feel bad because of the way we are being treated. We are supposed to work like animals, like we don’t have enough time to work. We have to go to the extreme. If all of us clock out, it’s going to be a problem.
It’s not fair that we come here on a tied permit. We want a better system, not a closed permit. It’s not fair that we sign a contract to work but our employer can decide to send us home at any time. Some of us have already been sent home and new people have been brought up instead.
We have complained many times about the housing. It is not just one bunkhouse that has problems. One of our bunkhouses had waste water overflowing and going through the bunkhouse, even into the kitchen. Our employer did nothing about it for several days, and even came into our bunkhouse and yelled at us for causing the problem. He said that we must have poured grease down the drain for this to happen.
He only did something when we decided not to go to work. But even after that problem was fixed, it came back again. It is very disrespectful to expect us to live like this and go to work without any complaint.
There has recently been a bedbug infestation at another bunkhouse. Bedbugs are not new at this farm and we know they have been infesting bunkhouses here for many years. Even though the liaison got involved, they cannot do anything if our employer doesn’t want to do anything. The employer only gave us some traps and sprays. We know this does not help the problem because there was an infestation when we first came to the farm earlier this year, and he did the same thing. We were getting bitten regularly. There were bumps on our skin and we felt itchy. We were worried that we could get sick, and that the bedbugs could spread to other bunkhouses since we are all working together in the fields.
Finally the employer brought someone to treat the bedbugs, but the day after that Service Canada came to the farm. We think that this is why the employer brought someone. The bedbugs came back after that.
Working at this Farm
If we get sick at work, it’s like it doesn’t matter to them. They don’t pay us any sick days and don’t help us if we are sick. They have not given us a health card yet and they have taken away our work permits and employment contracts.
The boss is very disrespectful. He wants us to do whatever he says. When he says to jump, he wants us to jump. Our words don’t matter to him. He has a very rude attitude and does not respect us or the work that we do.
We have been prevented from using the bathroom because it is “company policy” to go only on breaks. But sometimes we are not able to go to the bathroom even on our breaks because we are being moved from field to field.
The drinking water and bathing water at the farm is not safe. Sometimes it smells bad, like wastewater.
It has been very hot to work in the fields. But this employer still makes us work the same long shifts without any extra breaks, no water, no shade or cool areas. They don’t care that we are getting dizzy, or fainting, or ill. They just want us to work.
We feel very bad about the guys who have been sent home because they would like to make money, just like those of us who are here on the farm. The fact that they have been sent home, and replaced with other workers, is really rough. This farm, the boss, they don’t really care about us. They just care about making money. We just have to sit like animals and listen to what they say, and just do it.
It is not easy but if us workers see a chance for things to get better, we have to come together and unite. It can’t just be one person. We should come and talk about it, not just leave it aside and go home. We have to stand together as one, so we can unite and get better.
We are all one nation. We have different skin but we are brothers in our own image and colour. We want the same for everyone. We have to be there for one another. If there is a problem we have to come together and talk about it, and go on a strike. If we are not getting good pay, we can strike out and it can maybe get better.
We came to this country to get better – we came for more than this low-paying job. We should have the ability to work in a place that treats us with respect. We are no different than the generations of migrant workers that came before us.
- We want to have better housing. We want housing where we have enough bedrooms for everyone, enough bathrooms so that everyone has privacy. We want housing where we do not have bedbugs or any other pests. We want clean bunkhouses with functioning appliances – stoves, fridges, microwaves, washers and dryers. We do not want to live in barns with concrete floors. We want to live in proper houses.
- We want to be treated with respect at work. We do not want to be yelled at, sworn at, or to get in trouble for using the bathroom. We are not children.
- We want the ability to choose where we work and our working conditions. Some of us have been working the night shift for weeks and cannot speak with our families. Some of us want to stay and work at other farms when our contracts end. We want the ability to move to other employers and stay if we want to. It is not fair that we have to work for one employer alone in Canada.
- We want to be able to speak up for our rights without getting in trouble and without being sent home. Some of our brothers have already been sent home after we refused to work, when our bunkhouse was flooded with waste water. All workers who have spoken out should not be removed from the program and should not get in trouble in any way.
A group of workers