Over 100 migrant farm workers from Trinidad & Tobago are stuck in Canada. When will the federal government step up?

As reported by the CBC, more than 100 migrant agricultural workers from Trinidad and Tobago have been stuck in Canada and can’t get home because of COVID-19 concerns. They now have to endure the Canadian winter with no access to any kind of income support. Justicia for Migrant Workers sent the following letter to hold decision-makers accountable. We invite you to do the same — feel free to adapt our letter and use the email addresses below.

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Open Letter re: Stranded Migrant Workers from Trinidad and Tobago

TO:     The Honourable Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development (Ahmed.Hussen@parl.gc.ca)

The Honourable Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees & Citizenship (Marco.Mendicino@parl.gc.ca)

The Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion (Carla.Qualtrough@parl.gc.ca)

December 7, 2020

Dear Honourable Ministers Hussen, Mendicino, and Qualtrough,

In March 2020, when the pandemic hit the world, your government deemed foreign seasonal farm workers to be essential and took exceptional steps in getting the workers into Canada from the Caribbean and Mexico. You then made them work under hazardous conditions with minimal support, all to ensure that Canadian farmers could make profits and so Canada gets local food on the table. Now, when they are no longer needed by the farmers because of the weather, you have abandoned these racialized migrant farm workers.

Hundreds of workers from Trinidad and Tobago have toiled through the harvest this year through the Seasonal Agricultural Work Program (SAWP). Their contracts have now come to an end as their services are no longer needed in winter. These workers are unable to go back home to their families because of COVID concerns. They are stuck here in the Canadian cold with no form of income support and no assistance of any kind from your government. They have to pay for rent, for food, for clothing and all basic necessities with no income.

Their situation is particularly unconscionable because these workers are eligible for Employment Insurance as per the regulations, which they have paid into during their service for your country, and yet Service Canada refused to use their discretion in granting them the benefits (Phone call meeting between J4MW and Service Canada December 4, 2020).

Service Canada went so far to advise that the workers should pay the fees for their work permits, even though, as per IRCC directives for seasonal farm workers and the interstate bilateral agreements, it is the employer that pays for the work permit. At the same time, migrant workers who do hold a valid work permit and have already submitted their applications for EI have received negative decisions from Service Canada, stating that because they hold a closed work permit, “they are not ready and available for work”.

In De Jesus v. Canada (AG) 2013 FCA 264, a case that dealt with parental EI benefits, the Federal Court of Appeal stated:

[13] The unique disadvantages in the Canadian labour market of agricultural workers as a whole, and migrant workers in particular, are well known. These disadvantages commonly include: ineligibility for many social benefits, including most unemployment insurance benefits; exclusion from many statutory protections of workers (including representation by a union); low educational level, functional illiteracy, and lack of knowledge of English or French; social isolation, and lack of access to telephones, computers, and urban centres; long and arduous working schedules with little free time; and fear of employer reprisal and deportation

[14] Like other employees, SAWP workers have employment insurance contributions deducted from their pay cheques. Unlike most other employees, however, they are generally ineligible for benefits, including regular employment insurance benefits, because they leave Canada at the end of their seasonal employment, and cease to be available for work or present in Canada. [emphasis added]

The SAWP workers are currently present in Canada and are therefore eligible for regular benefits as per the reasoning of the Federal Court of Appeal.  Yet, Service Canada refuses to grant them EI benefits by foisting the blame on IRCC/ESDC.

Furthermore, the Principles of Benefit Entitlement clearly states that

[A] claimant who does not currently possess a work permit is not automatically considered unavailable for work. In some cases, the claimant may be able to obtain a work permit as soon as employment is secured, because of the type of work they perform, or because of the individual’s skills. Consequently, the lack of a work permit is not the only factor to be considered when determining availability. The Commission must take into account all factors normally considered when determining a claimant’s availability.

[Digest of Benefit Entitlement Principles Chapter 10 – Section 10.2.4]

In many cases, the Tribunal has found that if the worker has taken “prompt and reasonable steps” to search for work and obtain employment, especially under circumstances beyond their control, they are eligible for EI even if their work permit has expired (See e.g. O. O. v Canada Employment Insurance Commission, 2019 SST 868; Canada Employment Insurance Commission  v. L.B., AD-13-1140).

Service Canada’s fettering of their discretion, in the face of precedent and their own principle, is a grave injustice and a perversion of the rule of law. These Trinidadian workers have gone above and beyond in taking “prompt and reasonable steps” to obtain status in Canada, even under the most extenuating circumstances beyond their control, and in fact beyond the control of the entire world as the battle against the pandemic continues. They are stuck in Canada because they are being prevented from traveling due to the pandemic.

In their desperate situation, they have pressured their government to send directives to their employers to process their LMIAs (which allows them to get a work permit) and to ask ESDC and IRCC to process them at the earliest (Notice from the Government of Trinidad and Tobago to employers, December 1, 2020). They have tried to find employers who can process their LMIAs. They have sought support for accessing benefits. As such, they have done everything humanly possible in this unforeseeable situation to show they are searching for work and are available for work. They are being made to endure circumstances that simply should not be tolerated in Canada. It is unconscionable that Service Canada is not responding to the situation and providing them with prompt benefits.

The Tax Court of Canada, in a case concerning Guatemalan workers in the agri-food industry, has held that the employment contracts of foreign workers are valid and the workers are eligible for employment insurance even if they do not comply with the work permit (Godoy Enriquez v. M.N.R., 2019 TCC 114).  The Court found that “the prohibition on work by foreign nationals without a permit is intended primarily to protect job opportunities for Canadian citizens and to prevent collective bargaining from being obstructed by the hiring of foreign nationals.” [(para 85)]. The Court stated that as per Canada’s obligation under international instruments, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Canada has an obligation to protect the rights of workers to social security, including employment insurance (paras 91-93). Thus, according to the Court’s reasoning, the interpretation of IRPA, taking into account its objectives and principles, mandates that workers cannot be denied their right to EI and other benefits.

The Court further affirms that migrant farm workers “are a beneficial and critical human resource for both the economy and the greater good of all Canadians” (para 95), “an enrichment, and even a fundamental necessity to the stability and development of Canada’s agri‑food industry” (112) and that it is “a matter of general interest for Canadian society” that their important contribution to the Canadian economy be recognized and it is “unacceptable” to exclude them and abandon seasonal workers (paras 95, 14 emphasis added). The Court asserted that “it is urgent and imperative that the government… respond to seasonal workers’ problems and concerns before they arrive, upon their arrival and throughout their time in Canada” (para 14 emphasis added).  It is therefore appalling that Service Canada has instead abandoned them in the midst of a pandemic and the onset of winter.

Honourable Minister Hussen, you personally have strongly come out against Anti-Black racism and systemic racism within Canada’s borders. You said: “… the sooner we acknowledge [systemic racism], the sooner we amplify the voices of those who feel that sting of discrimination of racism as part of their lived reality, the sooner we’ll be able to tackle it and to eradicate it [Toronto Star, June 3rd 2020].” Yet, the very Ministry you lead, practices and embeds systemic racism against Black and racialized migrant workers, by discriminating against them and denying them the benefits they are entitled to, that they have paid into, during their time doing essential farm labour in Canada. We urge you to acknowledge the discrimination they face.

Honourable Ministers, the workers cannot wait anymore, insecure and without income, as you play jurisdictional football with them. We demand that you make the decision to pay the workers who are currently in Canada Employment Insurance benefits before December 10th. Any further delay is an abuse of process, abuse of discretion, and denial of natural justice.

Honourable Ministers Qualtrough and Mendicino, you have made the workers wholly reliant on their employers by making the work permit conditional on LMIAs. You have not even exempted the work permit processing fees. These workers are being forced to spend precious holiday time in Canada far away from their families, in the Canadian winter, with no income, no shelter, no clothing.  Instead of showing gratitude and compassion you have made the situation into a travesty where in their time of need, the workers are put in a worse situation of oppression and disempowerment. How are you even justifying your action? We demand that the stranded workers be immediately given open work permits,  with no conditions of requiring LMIAs to work in Canada and with no repercussions or administrative hurdles that would affect their future return to Canada.  We demand that the permit fees be waived for these workers. We also demand that they be given permanent residence status.

This incident concerning the Trinidadian workers cannot be seen as an isolated, unfortunate event; it is the outcome of a system of discrimination and oppression that is perpetuated by Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker programs in agriculture.  Migrant agricultural workers are crucial to the functioning of the agricultural industry functioning. Many of these workers have been returning to work at the same farm each year, for many years. It is estimated that SAWP workers pay an estimated $21.5 million annually in EI premiums and have paid billions of dollars into EI since 1966, which have supported Canadian workers for decades, even as your Ministries exclude them from ever availing of the benefit through the application of discriminatory and racist regulations. The people who grow our fruits and vegetables, the people who put food on our tables, should not face perpetual impoverishment because of an unpredictable climate, and even more so, during a pandemic. We cannot simply ignore their calls for justice. Do you find it easier to do so because they are “racialized foreign migrant workers” who the government has wilfully invisibilized?

The legacy of colonialism continues to drive thousands of migrants to Canada in search of work, who your government takes advantage of, thus perpetuating colonialism and racism. In fact, just last week, the Federal Government has increased the program by expanding the definition of Primary Agriculture. This expanded definition implies that you will be excluding greater numbers of racialized migrant farm workers from basic employment standards and benefits, even as they contribute billions of dollars to the economy and revenue. This racial apartheid cannot continue.

We therefore call on the government to:

  1. Reverse all decisions denying regular EI benefits to migrant farm workers, that were made on the basis that they were unavailable to work because of their work permit status. Award benefits to all workers who have applied immediately;
  2. Remove the conditions predicating access to regular EI benefits on their work permit and their physically being in Canada. Provide equal access to the regular employment insurance benefits for migrant workers, after they go back to their countries, through the development of interstate agreements between the governments of Canada and the countries from which migrant workers originate. This access can be modelled on similar agreements that already exist with the United States and inter-state agreements globally;
  3. Restore migrant workers’ access to special EI entitlements including parental, maternity and compassionate benefits;
  4. Provide migrant workers with access to training and education and all social and income benefits in Canada and when they are back in their home countries;
  5. Waive all fees for applications for work permits for farm work.
  6. Provide all workers arriving in Canada under SAWP or the Agricultural Streams with open work permits that are not dependent on LMIAs.
  7. Provide them with permanent residence status on arrival.

Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW)

Day of the Dead/Día de los Muertos celebrations November 1st: Join us in Leamington and online

Mexican altar with flowers, candles, and photographs commemorating deceased migrant agricultural workers

Justicia for Migrant Workers 2013 Day of the Dead altar to commemorate migrant workers killed on the job in Canada.

To honour all the deaths of migrant farm workers who have died in Canada and in their home countries, Justice for Migrant Workers is hosting two Day of the Dead events on Sunday, November 1st.

These events build on the longstanding work of Justicia activist and artist Tzazná Miranda Leal, who for years has established an altar in honour of deceased migrant agricultural workers at Wychwood Barns in Toronto.

In particular, we invite you to hold your hearts three Mexican migrant agricultural workers who died in Ontario this year due to COVID-19 and the government’s failure to prioritize worker safety: Bonifacio Eugenio Romero (31), Rogelio Muñoz Santos (24), and Juan Lopez Chaparro (55). ¡Presente!

In-person, outdoor, physically distanced altar in Leamington, Ontario

  • 12pm-6pm on Sunday, 1 November
  • Meet at the Giant Tomato (72 Talbot St West)

Digital Day of the Dead Celebration

  • Sunday, November 1st online
  • Take part in our virtual celebration of the three Mexican migrant agricultural workers who died due to COVID-19.
  • Please include Bonifacio Eugenio Romero, Rogelio Muñoz Santos, and Juan Lopez Chaparro on your ofrenda/altar, honouring them in a way that resonates with you.
  • We invite you to share photos of your altar with us on social media. Tag us @harvestingfreedom (instagram), or @j4mw (Twitter).

Show solidarity with Erika and Jesus, who were repatriated after receiving a delivery of food!

Erika and Jesus, two migrant agricultural workers from Mexico.

Erika and Jesus, two migrant agricultural workers from Mexico, were recently repatriated from a farm in Kelowna simply because they received a delivery of food and clothes.

Erika Zavala and Jesus Molina, both migrant farmworkers from Mexico, were recently fired from a B.C. farm simply because they received a delivery of cultural food and work clothes.

They are devastated after losing their income for the season. Erika and Jesus had been counting on working in Canada until October to support their children and elderly parents. The shutdown of the Mexican economy due to COVID-19 has severely reduced opportunities for jobs back home, and there is no government support. You can read more about their story in The Guardian.

This Labour Day, one very meaningful way you can show solidarity with migrant agricultural workers is by donating to help Erika and Jesus cover their lost income: https://www.gofundme.com/f/show-solidarity-with-erika-and-jesus

We are enormously thankful to everyone who has donated so far in this GoFundMe fundraiser coordinated with our friends at RAMA Okanagan. It also means a lot to Erika and Jesus to know that so many people in Canada care about them. All funds raised go directly to Erika and Jesus.

Can you help us reach the final stretch of our fundraising goal?

If it’s within your means, we welcome donations here.

“It’s almost like racism will never be over.” A migrant farm worker calls for an end to being treated like “a modern-day slave”

Over 670 migrant agricultural workers have been confirmed positive for COVID-19 in Canada, and two comrades have died. Activists have been predicting these outbreaks for months.

How many more migrant farm workers will need to fall ill before the government starts valuing the lives of people of colour from the Global South? It’s time for the the federal government to give #statusnow for all migrant workers! It’s also time for the province to end the differential treatment farm workers receive under provincial labour standards.

Please sign our petition here.

A migrant farm worker who is currently working in Canada shares the following message from the frontlines:

“..migrants are facing too much struggle here in Canada when they are a major factor to Canadians’ needs and even Canada’s economy… see how this young migrant worker from Mexico died…. right now his body is left at his family’s expense to get him back to Mexico for a proper burial… This shouldn’t be when he been playing a major factor in Canada’s food chain and economy. Migrant workers are almost no good to Canada when they are no longer able to meet the needs of their Canadian employer.. Shouldn’t be.

It’s almost like racism will never be over.

Migrant workers should be stopped treated as modern-day slaves…conditions we have to live in… working humiliation and belittleness we have to face… It’s almost like racism will never be over… we shouting Black Lives Matters.. but what really matters?? What’s the concern… police killing Black citizens… that’s the only Black life that matter… the migrant workers.. most are of the Black race… so it’s same racism against we migrant workers we are facing… for what?? coming here to perform task Canadians don’t want to do… meet needs and demands of Canadians.. contribute to major part of Canada’s economy.. I mean since before I came here as migrant worker, migrant workers been treated this way… racism same way.. When will it ever stop??? Will it ever stop?? Or should I do like others and speak on behalf of my fellow migrant workers and just agree I’ll be sent home and denied coming back here..

Your only opportunity is to get another job as a migrant worker on some farm.. If not you sent home and maybe replaced. Like, that’s all migrant workers are good for??

The only chance migrant workers do have in Canada is as a migrant farm worker… nothing more.. no other benefits… for example me.. being here.. since March 23rd.. haven’t been working.. no income.. have been contributing to Canadians needs and Canada’s economy for the past 4 years.. now I’m out a job.. no money.. Am I to just sit here hungry till my time visa expire and return home.. That’s how it is? Or maybe steal a chance.. work under table.. no benefits … like others been doing??? More serious stuff should be put in place for migrant workers here… If you lost a job as a migrant farm worker.. Your only opportunity is to get another job as a migrant worker on some farm.. If not you sent home and maybe replaced. Like, that’s all migrant workers are good for??

Migrants ain’t Canadians, doesn’t mean migrants ain’t human.

A lot of changes need to be done… a lot more opportunities need to be put in place for migrants workers seeing we are playing and contributing so much to Canada and Canadians… They need to open up more doors to migrant workers beside the opportunity of just working on a farm, financially… things need to be put in place for migrant workers to obtain financial benefits during times like now…. Clearly if you a migrant worker and for example not working like times like now.. how can you take care of your family back home which you came here to provide for in the 1st place.? Migrants ain’t Canadians, doesn’t mean migrants ain’t human.

Now he is dead, he is of no good to Canada cause he can’t physically provide the needs and wants of Canadians and automatically it’s his family expense and duty to make sure his back home for burial.

Health wise.. a lot more need to be done when it comes for migrants health here in Canada, this young man left his family to provide for them.. but also to contribute to the demands and need of Canadians and even Canada’s economy by extension.. Now he is dead, he is of no good to Canada cause he can’t physically provide the needs and wants of Canadians and automatically it’s his family expense and duty to make sure his back home for burial. Some form of benefit or insurance should be put in place… he’s no longer a bread winner to his family as a result of death in another country as a migrant worker yet its his families expense to get him home.. What about the impact an contribution he made to Canada upon living his family. He’s dead, he could easily be replaced like we would often be humiliated with these words by farm bosses, what about his family?? Who to contribute and provide for them?? A lot need to be done.. Migrants come here to work and make a better life for the love ones back home and more so to provide the Canadians with their daily food and other services… more opportunities for better lives of migrants workers, migrant worker families should be put in place..

when you are no longer of good health or no longer meet the criteria of serving as a modern-day slave, you are then replaced.

Even with migrant workers being going back and forth for certain amount of years contributed to Canada’s economy and needs of Canadians is only accessible to specific work permit given the chance to only work on farms.. open work permits for migrant workers to further provide for them self, further contribute Canada’s economy, meet the needs and demands of Canadians, in which they could now be comfortable and eligible to other benefits because migrants are humans too. Some reason it is felt like migrant workers are only to be as modern days slaves here in Canada and when you are no longer of good health or no longer meet the criteria of serving as a modern-day slave, you are then replaced.

 

Honouring comrades on Workers’ Memorial Day

April 28 marks the Day of Mourning, and workers across the world are taking the time to honour our comrades killed at work.

Migrant workers and their allies join today to demand an end to dangerous, demeaning and dehumanizing work, and an end to unsafe practices that result in injury and death. Justicia for Migrant Workers wants to highlight the particular vulnerabilities faced by migrants employed under temporary foreign worker programs in Canada.

Being tied to an employer and under constant threat of repatriation means that migrant workers are at particular risk of being employed under unsafe conditions. If migrant workers are injured on the job in Canada, they are often treated as disposable, denied access to the health care and workplace compensation to which they’re entitled, and sent home. Despite our consistent calls for changes to our labour laws, there has never been a Coroner’s inquest to investigate the death of a migrant farm worker who died on the job in Canada.

Ontario, for example, has continued to exempt farm workers from protections available to most other workers in the province. Current regulations place workers at the risk of exposure to pesticides and other agro-chemicals, confined spaces, heat stress, and working at dangerous heights.

While we mourn the deaths of our friends, comrades and loved ones, today is a call to action to recognize one workplace death as one death too many. Let’s organize together to build power, to build strength, and to build our resistance against dangerous and deadly working conditions. We owe it to those who have passed, to their loved ones, and to future generations to ensure farm workplaces uphold the highest standards of safety and dignity for all.

Show solidarity with Leon! Seeking donations for an injured migrant worker

Migrant worker Leon Ferguson at a rally in Ottawa as part of J4MW's Harvesting Freedom caravan.

Migrant worker Leon Ferguson at a rally in Ottawa in 2016 as part of J4MW’s Harvesting Freedom caravan.

We are writing with an urgent financial appeal to cover the costs of a MRI for an injured migrant farm worker from Jamaica. We are seeking to raise $1500. All monies donated will be used to cover the costs of the MRI and travel to medical appointments.

Continue reading

Take action: Justice for migrant temple workers

Four workers from India who were working at a temple in Toronto

Indian migrant workers have filed a complaint with the Ontario Ministry of Labour after working at a Toronto temple. Photo: Tamil Workers Network.

Last week, migrant temple workers from India filed a complaint with Ontario’s Ministry of Labour alleging they were owed tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages, along with concerns over substandard housing and workplace harassment. Their case echoes the exploitation and indignities courageously raised by many migrant farm workers, adding to a long list of systemic exploitation. Under Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program, thousands of racialized workers are employed under a system of low-wage indentured labour. Their visas are ‘tied’ to an employer, and they are vulnerable to abuse because of the control employers exert over working and living conditions in Canada.
Workers deserve freedom from discrimination and exploitation. Please stand in solidarity with these workers’ demands for fairness and justice. Let’s send a strong message that this isn’t simply about one ‘bad apple’ employer abusing the program. The Temporary Foreign Worker Program is rotten to the core.

TAKE ACTION

Phone and/or email your Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) (find their contact info here). Please CC j4mw.on@gmail.com. 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 work 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 practices that deny migrant workers equal access to benefits
Phone and/or email your Member of Parliament (click here to find them by 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.

Sample letters

Please copy the text below and use PASTE AS TEXT to remove formatting:

Dear MPP,

I was outraged to learn the recent news about exploitative working and living conditions that a group of migrant temple workers endured while working in Toronto. Unfortunately, this fits a wider pattern of exploitation and injustice that migrant activists have been raising for decades. Whether it is in the service sector, construction, agriculture or a host of other industries that employ migrant workers, there are systemic issues that the provincial government must undertake to end the injustices faced by migrant workers.

I respectfully urge you to ensure:

  • Both occupational health & safety and employment standards are modernized to protect the rights of low-wage migrant workers.
  • Random spot-checks at work sites and employer-provided accommodations.
  • 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 practices that deny migrant workers equal access to benefits.

Sincerely,

[Your name and address, so they know you’re a real person]

Dear MP,

I was outraged to learn the recent news regarding exploitative working and living conditions that a group of migrant temple workers endured while working in Toronto. Unfortunately, this fits a wider pattern of exploitation and injustice that migrant activists have been raising for decades. Whether it is in the service sector, construction, agriculture or a host of other industries that employ migrant workers, there are systemic issues that the federal government must undertake to end the injustices faced by migrant workers.

I respectfully urge you to ensure:
  • Landed status on arrival for all migrant workers;
  • Equal access to all social programs (including Employment Insurance)
  • Ending the unilateral repatriations of migrant workers, and implementing an appeals process so migrant workers aren’t simply deported because an employer
[Your name and address, so they know you’re a real person]

Media coverage

URGENT call for solidarity with injured apple worker Kevon Smith

SMITH-1

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!

IMG_7690

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.