50 years of Farmworker Resistance
The year 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the migrant farmworker program in Canada. Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW) will be marking this year with the Harvesting Freedom Campaign, a call on the Canadian government to finally allow migrant farm workers in Canada to access Permanent Immigration Status. The Campaign starts in January of the 50th year of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers program and will include a Pilgrimage from Leamington to Ottawa in time for Thanksgiving season on October 2nd and 3rd, 2016. The Pilgrimage will highlight the reliance on farm workers across its route as it crosses Southern Ontario and will culminate with a clear message to the Federal Government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Justice is 50 years overdue.
The campaign was launched January 25, 2016 in Ottawa with a group of farmworkers hand-delivering Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a giant 50th Anniversary party invitation. The Prime Minister is hereby invited to RSVP and bring justice to the thousands of farmworkers who have put food on Canada’s tables for the last 50 years without any chance to lay roots in the country. Justicia for Migrant Workers and the Harvesting Freedom Campaign will be organizing a series of actions throughout the year to raise awareness and put pressure for the government of Canada to do what’s right.
The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program is a labour-migration program that has brought thousands of Caribbean and Mexican migrant farm workers to toil in fields across Canada. Migrant workers are tied to one single employer by their work permits and cannot change jobs, can be sent home by their employers at any time, have no access to Permanent Residency status and must return home after their contracts end, despite how many years they have worked in Canada. Despite being described as a temporary migration program, the SAWP has supported Canada’s agricultural industry for half a century and is very much a permanent part of our industry and our communities.
Migrant workers are granted few rights and protections in Canada. Many face deplorable living and working conditions and their employer will send them home on the first flight back if they stand up for their rights. There is little to no government monitoring of health and safety on the farms or in the bunkhouses. When workers become injured on the job, employers and consulate officials send them home at the earliest opportunity, often before proper medical attention is sought. Government agencies, like the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, fail to protect these injured workers by providing compensation – knowing that they return home to a life of poverty and ill health. As temporary migrants and not immigrants, most local community agencies are not allowed to provide them any support.
Most migrant farm workers in Canada come from impoverished rural communities in Mexico and the Caribbean through the government-run Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program. In the last 10 years the Canadian government has added and expanded the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. This program has allowed growers to also hire workers from other countries such as Thailand, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia and China to perform work for wages that Canadians prefer not to accept. In agriculture alone, there were 45,000 migrant workers invited to contribute their labour to Canada but who the government refuses to permanently include into our communities.