ACTION: Send a letter to Ministers – Trinidadian workers need government support benefits now!

As reported by the Toronto Star today, right now, hundreds of migrant farm workers from Trinidad and Tobago are stranded in Canada.

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 travel restrictions by their sending country. They are stuck here in the Canadian cold with no form of income support and no assistance of any kind from the Trudeau government. These workers are being forced to spend precious holiday time far away from their families, with no income, no shelter, no winter clothing.

Please join us in calling on Ministers to take action NOW.

The following email template makes it easy — just enter your contact info and click “send”!

 

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.

***

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)

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.

A worker shared this video from the inside of an employer-provided bunkhouse.

Hundreds of Black and Brown migrant farm workers are contracting COVID-19 in Canada because of conditions like this. The following video was shared with us by a worker and shows how twelve men are currently crammed into a room separated by flimsy pieces of cardboard. Stay tuned — we’ll be naming this employer soon.

Meanwhile, seasonal agricultural workers coming to Canada from Jamaica have been required to sign a waiver releasing the Jamaican government from liability if they’re exposed to COVID-19.

How many more exposés are needed before the government takes real action?  It’s time for the federal government, Ministry of Labour and public health to show that they value the lives of people of colour from the Global South. They need to take action stop the spread of this pandemic.

Migrant workers are demanding permanent status on arrival in Canada. It’s time to end the differential treatment farm workers face in Canada, including exemptions from employment protections that other workers can access.

Please sign our petition here.

At just one Ontario farm, at least 164 workers have tested positive for COVID-19. Take action now!

At least 164 racialized migrant workers from Mexico have tested positive for COVID-19 at Scotlynn Group’s farm in Norfolk County, Ontario. Meanwhile, the employer is offering to pay Canadian residents $25/hour to harvest asparagus. We have never heard of a migrant farmworker anywhere earning $25 an hour for their hard-earned labour.

EZb9XxyVcAENesL

Please take the following actions today in support of migrant justice. It won’t take long to tweet, email and/or phone right now:

1. TWEET at @scotlynnGroup. Ask, the employer:

  • “Will migrant farm workers also be paid $25 an hour?”
  • “Will you commit to not repatriating workers who are sick or injured?”
  • “Will you commit to paying migrant workers full wages and no deductions during their quarantine period, at the same rate you are paying Canadian residents?”
  • “Will you commit to rehiring all migrant labourers next year and paying the $25 they are offering this year to Canadian workers?

You can use the following hashtags: #migrantjustice #fairwagesnow #covid19 #covid19Ontario #onpoli #onlab #onlab

Feel free to CC @fordnation @montemcnaughton @marcomendicino @cquantrough and @mclaudebideau.

2. EMAIL the employer at info@scotlynn.com. Please CC j4mw.on@gmail.com so we can keep track of how many emails are sent. Sample email:

I am aware that you are offering to pay $25/hour to assist with harvesting asparagus, and I am writing to inquire whether or not the migrant workers employed at your workplace will also be paid $25 an hour. Will you commit to this as well as paying the workers full wages during their quarantine? Furthermore, will you ensure that no migrant worker who is sick or injured will be repatriated, and that they will be provided full access to the Canadian healthcare system? Finally, will you commit to rehiring all workers next year if they so choose to return to Scotlynn, paying the $25 rate that you are offering to Canadian residents? I await a response from you.

3. PHONE Scotlynn Group at 1-800-263-9117 ext 2225. Phone script:

I am phoning today to ask about your job posting. Are you paying migrant farm workers $25 as well? Will you pay the workers full wages during their quarantine, and will you commit to not sending home injured and sick workers so they receive full access to our healthcare system? Finally, will you rehire all the workers next year if they choose to return? For years your farm business has relied on migrant workers, and its our hope that they will be treated with fairness and respect during this pandemic.

Update on fire fundraiser

fire1Spring has arrived, and many of our brothers and sisters on the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program are returning to southern Ontario. We thought we would take this opportunity to provide an update on a story that happened at the tail end of last year’s season.

On the morning of July 29, 2016, 32 migrant farmworkers from Jamaica lost all their belongings when a fire destroyed their bunkhouse in Mount Pleasant, Ontario. All they were left with were the clothes on their backs.

Justice for Migrant Workers made repeated trips to Mount Pleasant to meet with those who were affected by the fire and to assess the situation. Some of the workers were preparing a shipment of items to send back home to family in Jamaica. However the fire destroyed everything. Tools, passports, and other items were all lost. Some workers also reported that they lost their savings, as they didn’t have bank accounts in Canada and kept all their money in the bunkhouse.

A GoFundMe page was started, and donations also poured in from the community. The total amount raised for our brothers in Brantford reached $21,984. Just over half that amount was raised online, while a very special donation of $10,000 was received from the Jesuit Refugee and Migrant Service.

fire2In October 2016, just before the workers returned home at the end of the season, two Justicia volunteers traveled to Brantford and provided each of the 32 workers with cheques for $687. The gratitude was overwhelming, and important bonds were built which will hopefully last through many seasons to come.

An additional victory was the announcement that the Jamaican consulate would waive all fees associated with replacing the passports. This came after steadfast pressure from Justicia and other groups standing in solidarity with the workers.

Next steps

Migrant farmworkers are employed in one of the most marginalized and oppressed sectors of Canadian society. The Supreme Court of Canada has recognized their work as being some of the most dangerous there is. As migrants they face additional risks due to their precarious status in Canada, the fact that they’re not permitted to unionize, and their social isolation. Yet despite this they work hard to put Ontario produce on the plates of families across our province and beyond, typically without ever receiving adequate recognition or gratitude.

We were proud to have enabled community assistance in this situation, and we encourage everyone to continue with support and advocacy throughout 2017.

Sep 17-19 in Guelph and Waterloo, honouring Dr. Kerry Preibisch

We’re very excited for our upcoming leg of the caravan in Guelph and Waterloo.

harvesting-freedom-sept-17Saturday, Sept 17 (Guelph)
Film screening of Migrant Dreams. 7-9pm in Room 102, Rozanski Hall, University of Guelph. Director Min Sook Lee, Nandita Sharma and members of the caravan will join in a community panel/Q&A, moderated by Janet McLaughlin, following the screening. RSVP on the Facebook event. If you have accessibility needs, please contact Brad (organizational@opirgguelph.org). Please click here for full-size version of the film-screening poster.

 

 

Sunday, Sept 18 (Guelph)

The Caravan will honour the life and work of Professor Kerry Preibisch at a special academic forum in Guelph.

Monday, Sept 19 (Guelph)

We will pay a community visit to the WSIB office at 9am to demand justice for injured migrant farmworkers! They are located at 100 Stone Road West, Guelph.

Monday, Sept 19 (Waterloo)
Harvesting Change: Reflections on the 50th Anniversary of Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program. Hosted by the Balsillie School of International Affairs, Wilfrid Laurier University, and the International Migration Research Centre.

Morning keynote:

Academic Panel:

[Lunch]

Community Panel:

Click on this event page for more details and registration. REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED.

poster

 

 

“It feels like the government just sells you out to a white man.”

“It feels like the government just sells you out to a white man.” – Terron Baptiste, September 9, 2016.

Terron Baptiste, a 30 year-old Trinidadian man in the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, had his contract terminated at the farm he worked because he refused to do unsafe work that had previously injured him. Although farm workers in Ontario are legally entitled to refuse unsafe work, Terron’s story illustrates the tremendous gap between migrant workers’ rights on paper and in practice.

Terron’s employer routinely cut the hours of workers who he deemed troublemakers in order to bully them into returning back home. Terron described treatment at his work place as “feeling like slavery” and that he and the others were routinely treated “worse than an animals”, being routinely punished for needing water or being injured, given 15-minute lunches and having wages stolen for unexplained reasons.

Photographs courtesy of Christopher Katsarov Luna

Support Ned Peart (hearing postponed until the Fall 2016)!

Ned Peart

This is Ned Peart. He was crushed to death by a tobacco kiln while working as a migrant farmworker in Ontario. His family together with Justicia for Migrant Workers have been fighting for over 10 years to change the laws so these kinds of accidents don’t happen again.

The hearing for his case was scheduled for March but was postponed until the Fall of 2016. We will need your support then and we will keep you updated! Help us pack the courtroom and also show our support to Mr. Peart’s family!