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.

We have until Jan 30th: Demand open work permits for all migrant workers

We have until January 30th! Demand open work permits for all migrant workers. Email the minister: migrantrights.caAmong all of the indignities low-wage migrant workers face, being ‘tied’ to one’s boss is among the worst.

Because of tied work permits, workers hired under low-wage streams of Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (including the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program) are only permitted to work for a single employer at a single location. If low-wage migrant workers encounter an abusive employment relationship, if their job or housing makes them sick, or if a frost destroys the crop for which they were hired to harvest, then changing employers is often extremely difficult in practice.

We have a key opportunity to end the injustice of tied work permits. The federal government is scheduled to announce new policies for migrant workers on  January 30th. Please take action right now by emailing Employment Minister Patricia Hajdu and Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen at this link: http://migrantrights.ca/en/take-action/#email

If you’re on Twitter, you can also tweet at the Ministers here.

As evidenced by Gina Bahiwal’s recent victory, we know that organized grassroots power can make a difference in the struggle for migrant justice. Let’s ensure an end to tied work permits today.

Leveraging the success of cancelling Gina Bahiwal’s deportation order

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Photo from Toronto Star: http://on.thestar.com/2jbm9KP

Many, many thanks again to everyone who phoned, emailed, tweeted at and met with MPs to stop Gina Bahiwal’s deportation. We are darn lucky that this champion for migrant justice will be staying (for a year, at least) in the place known as Canada. This example shows that when the conditions are right, organized grassroots power makes an enormous difference.

As Gina mentions in this new article published by the Toronto Star, the fight isn’t over. Let’s leverage this collective success by continuing to organize for broad-based changes to end the racial, economic and social injustices faced by migrant workers writ large. This includes ongoing campaigns for permanent status on arrival for all migrant workers in Canada.

URGENT: Two actions in solidarity with migrant activist Gina Bahiwal

Gina Bahiwal, a migrant worker who has been a crucial advocate for migrant and women’s rights in Canada is facing deportation on January 15th at 9:30pm. Here are two ways you can show solidarity with Gina:

  1. Donate to help cover the cost of her legal fees (please share this request letter for donations). Donate here via secure PayPal and let us know your donation is for Gina’s legal defence.
  2. Email Minister Ralph Goodale to ask him to stop the deportation (CC Minister Ahmed Hussen, Parliamentary Secretary Arif Virani, and MP Tracey Ramsey, and Justice for Migrant Workers). We’ve included a template letter below.
Drawing of Gina Bahiwal during the Justice for Migrant Workers Harvesting Freedom campaign

Artwork: Tzazná

Gina (Gregorgina) Bahiwal came to Canada from the Philippines in 2008 under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and has worked in vegetable-packing, housekeeping, and fast food. Despite being married, she is now facing deportation.

Throughout her time in Canada, Gina has been a bedrock for justice in the community. This has included advocating tirelessly for the rights of migrant workers like her, particularly among migrant women, providing mutual aid and services to other workers, and exposing the exploitative practices of recruiters. Gina has appeared in the documentary The End of Immigration, helped organize the J4MW Pilgrimage to Freedom in 2011, gave a deputation on migrant rights to the federal HUMA Standing Committee, and spoke at a press conference on Parliament Hill for the launch of the 2016 J4MW Harvesting Freedom campaign.

Deporting Gina would incur a huge loss to the communities she has been part of for the past nine years.

TEMPLATE LETTER TO MINISTER GOODALE

The Honourable Ralph Goodale
Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
ralph.goodale@parl.gc.ca
CC:
The Honourable Ahmed Hussen
Member of Parliament (York-South Weston)
Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship
ahmed.hussen@parl.gc.ca

The Honourable Arif Virani
Member of Parliament (Parkdale-High Park)
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship
Arif.Virani@parl.gc.ca

The Honourable Tracey Ramsey
Member of Parliament (Essex)
tracey.ramsey@parl.gc.ca

Justice for Migrant Workers
j4mw.on@gmail.com

Dear Minister Goodale,

We are writing to express concern about the removal of Gina Bahiwal, which has been scheduled for January 15th, 2017 at 9:30pm. She is married and has filed a Humanitarian and Compassionate application. Gina’s removal from Canada will impact not only her and her family, but a broad network of community members and Canadian society as a whole would lose an important and strong advocate on migrant rights issues in this country.

Gina came Canada from the Philippines in 2008 under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) and has worked in vegetable packing, housekeeping, and fast food. Throughout her time in Canada, Gina has been a bedrock for justice in communities throughout Canada. This has included advocating tirelessly for the rights of migrant workers like her, particularly among migrant women. She has volunteered her time providing mutual aid and services to other workers, and has engaged in pivotal work exposing the exploitative practices of recruiters. Gina has appeared in the documentary The End of Immigration, helped organize the Justice for Migrant Workers (J4MW) Pilgrimage to Freedom in 2011, gave a deputation on migrant rights to the HUMA Standing Committee, and was a key participant in the 2016 J4MW Harvesting Freedom campaign calling for permanent residency for farm workers and all temporary workers in Canada. Gina clearly made a significant impact on the HUMA temporary foreign worker program review. In the final report, Gina’s testimony is singled out for providing essential evidence about the conditions of female migrant workers in Canada, and the authors quote at length Gina’s testimony at pages 56 and 58 of the Report:

Gina Bahiwal provided an important gendered lens in understanding the temporary foreign worker program and the particular vulnerability experienced by women:

Access to health care is a problem for migrant women and injured workers. Migrant women who get pregnant and fired from work do not have access to health care. Injured workers who are being sent home cannot access health care here in Canada. – Gina Bahiwal, Member of Coalition for Migrant Worker Rights Canada

The horrific reality of ignoring the medical needs of workers was highlighted by witnesses:

Women migrant workers who get pregnant while working here in Canada get fired, so they don’t have access to health care. One worker who I talked to last month lost her baby. She had to hide her tummy and put on a girdle so the employer would not see that she was pregnant, because she was afraid of being fired, and what happened is that she lost her baby. – Gina Bahiwal, Member of Coalition for Migrant Worker Rights Canada

Why is someone who has worked so hard to advocate for migrant workers, and migrant women in particular – someone your own government relied on to help improve the system for others – now being deported? Your government recently announced the removal of the “4-in-4-out” rule and in doing so, your government committed to developing pathways to permanent residency so that temporary workers can more fully contribute to Canada. Gina worked hard along with other migrant justice activists to help bring about this important result. She is a model of hard work, perseverance and service, and has already contributed greatly to Canada. Her deportation would create significant hardship for her family and for all of us who have gotten to know and respect Gina as a friend, fellow community member and ally in this work.

We also understand that Gina’s application for permanent residence is close to being finalized and do not understand why she cannot remain with her family and community while she awaits the completion of her immigration process. For all these reasons, we are asking you to intervene and cancel Gina’s removal from Canada, which is scheduled for January 15, 2017 at 9:30pm.

Thank you for considering our request. We look forward to your prompt response.

[Name]

[Mailing address – so they know you are a real person]

Join the Caravan Grand Finale in Ottawa this weekend

Over the past month, we’ve brought the caravan to over 20 communities across Ontario. We’ve connected with more than 1000 migrant agricultural workers from Mexico, the Caribbean, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Guatemala and Peru. We’ve witnessed the will for political change across a surprising range of everyday people in Canada.

To get a taste of the impact Harvesting Freedom has had on the public conversation about migrant justice in Canada and internationally, check out some of the media coverage from the past month.

This weekend, we’re pumped for the caravan’s grand finale in Ottawa. Please join us in the caravan’s final push to demand STATUS NOW from the federal government.

  • Saturday, Oct 1: Migrant Dreams screening at One World Film Fest. Doors: 11:30am. Library and Archives Canada, 395 Wellington St., Ottawa. Tickets here.
  • Sunday, Oct 2: Flyering Ottawa Farmers markets. Email us for details: harvestingfreedomcampaign@gmail.com
  • Monday, Oct 3: CARAVAN BIG FINALE. It will happen from 12noon-1:30pm, 365 Laurier Ave West. This will include a demonstration in front of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to demand justice for the tens of thousands of farmworkers who have put food on Canadian tables for the last 50 years without any chance to lay roots in the country. RSVP on the Facebook event.

As we detail in this latest press release, in a 2014 open letter published by the Toronto Star, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged that in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, “Abuse is not rare. It is far too common, and it must end immediately.” He underscored Canada’s historical commitment to providing a path to citizenship for all those who come to Canada to work  and emphasized that Canada should not “follow the path of other countries who exploit large numbers of guest workers”. For 50 years, seasonal agricultural workers have been the bulwark of  agricultural food production, and yet they have no access to secure, permanent immigration status.

Justice for Migrant Workers is holding Prime Minister Trudeau to account and is demanding an end to this unjust and discriminatory policy.

Here are a few shots from our visit to Kingston earlier this week, where we had critical conversations with Queens University students about racism in Canada and worker resistance, and delivered migrant workers’ demands for status now to Liberal MP Mark Gerretsen.

Onward to Ottawa!