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

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.

What’s missing in media coverage of the new Auditor General report on the TFWP

Photo of Auditor General Michael Ferguson by Adrian Wyld, Canadian Press.

Michael Ferguson, Auditor General. Photo: Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press: http://bit.ly/2qgk5U1

On May 16th, Michael Ferguson, the Canadian Auditor General, released a new report on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). Much of the media coverage on the report has missed some key points. Some coverage has also risked pitting migrant workers against unemployed and marginalized residents of Canada, particularly Indigenous peoples.

To be clear, migrant workers do not lower wages or steal jobs. Inadequate wages, unemployment and a lack of employment equity occur because of specific state and capitalist policy choices. The absence of standards or enforcement is a policy choice, too. In the case of low-wage streams of the TFWP, governments create policies that allow capitalists (aka employers) to access racialized, unfree and deportable workers from the Majority World. Consequently, workers have weak workplace bargaining power and can’t easily demand better wages and working conditions.

In response to the report and mainstream media coverage, we suggest the following points and questions :

  • Growth of agricultural streams of the TFWP: While the number of migrant workers in other streams has decreased in recent years, agricultural migrant workers have skyrocketed
    • e.g. in 2014, there were 47,477 migrant worker positions approved in Primary Agriculture — this is a rough proxy for the number of migrant farm workers. In 2015, there were 53,303 positions approved.
  • Xenophobia: Media articles that frame migrant workers as stealing jobs from Canadians are dangerous, inaccurate and irresponsible. Worldwide, we have witnessed the alarming effects of fomenting xenophobic sentiment, and particularly in the wake of Brexit and the Trump election.
  • Decrease in # of ‘low-skilled’ migrant workers: The report cites a massive decrease in the number of ‘low-skilled’ workers following Conservative Party reforms to the TFWP.
    • What happened to these people? How many were deported, repatriated, are still here, transitioned to permanent residency, sought other forms of immigration status ie student, other occupation, refugee status, etc.?
  • The role of CIC and CBSA: The report only examines Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), but neglects to consider the role of Citizenship and Immigration Canada and Canada Border Services Agency, both of which play a key role in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
  • Agricultural exceptionalism: There is no discussion on why there has not been any greater scrutiny of the agriculture sector.
  • Workers are people: The report treats migrants as mere economic units, rather than human beings with individual and collective rights.
  • Recruiters: The report speaks to employment recruitment efforts without examining the role of third party recruitment agencies in bringing migrant workers.
  • Precaritization of jobs: The report provides commentary about the hiring of marginalized people without considering broader trends in the precaritization of employment (i.e. insecure, low-wage, unprotected and informal jobs with limited or no benefits)
  • Timing and industry: The report does not examine the time spent by migrant workers in Canada. Specifically, the report examines Labour Market Impact Assessment approval without examining the labour attachment of these TFW’s to the industries they worked in.
  • Four-and-Four: How did the Four-in-and-Four-Out Rule impact migrant workers in low-skill streams of the TFWP? How many were forced to return to their countries of origin, despite the eventual rescinding of this rule?
  • EI: For those workers who collected EI, how many were able to access special or regular benefits? How many claimed benefits as a result of termination, abuse or job conflict?
    • Members of the public and advocacy groups have requested EI data on the TFWP for years, only to be told that a breakdown does not exist. The report shows it does exist.
  • “Risk-based approach”: The report discusses the use of a “risk-based approach” to workplace inspections. What does this look like, how was it developed and how will it be implemented?
  • Fed-provincial: With respect to federal-provincial agreements on the TFWP, only one province has signed this with the federal government. Migrant workers must be actively included as part of deliberating on these agreements.
  • Inspections: the numbers of inspections are shocking — 4,900 paper inspections and 173 onsite inspections, only 13 of which have been completed.
  • Reprisals: What steps will the federal and provincial governments take to protect workers who are terminated or lose jobs because they assisted with investigations?
  • Exploitation by design: Extreme cases of abuse are of course a problem, but the Auditor General doesn’t comment on how the Temporary Foreign Worker Program invites exploitation by design because of the fundamental structure of the program — driven by employers, with workers tied to their employer.
  • Performance measurement strategy: The report states that ESDC has now developed a “performance measurement strategy” to assess the impact of the TFWP on the Canadian labour market.
    • What are the metrics used for this measurement? Will this strategy ensure the rights of all workers are upheld, especially those of migrant workers?

Urgent: Prevent migrant activist Arthur Lorenzo’s deportation

cbc-photo-of-arthur

Arthur Lorenzo. Photo credit – CBC: http://bit.ly/KZ3UFR

Arthur Eisma Lorenzo Jr is a migrant worker who has been deeply involved in migrant rights activism and community-based work with LGBTQ refugees. As just one example of Arthur’s courageous advocacy, he participated in this CBC video interview about the exploitative conditions he faced as a restaurant worker in Labrador City (his employer’s permit was temporarily suspended). Now, Arthur is facing deportation on January 26th, 2017 at 10:30pm.

A couple of weeks ago, we asked people to send letters of solidarity calling for a stay on migrant activist Gina Dahiwal’s deportation. It was a long shot, but it worked.

Please email Minister Ralph Goodale today to ask him to stop the deportation (CC Minister Ahmed Hussen, Parliamentary Secretary Arif Virani, and MP John Aldag, and Justice for Migrant Workers). We’ve included a template email below.

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 John Aldag
Member of Parliament (Cloverdale-Langley)
John.Aldag@parl.gc.ca

Justice for Migrant Workers
j4mw.on@gmail.com

Dear Minister Goodale,

I am writing to express concern about the removal of Arthur Eisma Lorenzo Jr, which has been scheduled for January 26th, 2017 at 10:30pm. Arthur was instrumental in exposing workplace injustices while working in Labrador City in 2014. Since his arrival in Canada, Arthur has made positive contributions both in  Labrador and British Columbia by participating in numerous organizations and advocating for a broad array of communities. By deporting Arthur, Canadian society as a whole would lose an important and strong advocate for migrant workers.

Arthur Lorenzo came to Canada from the Philippines in June 2011 under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) and has worked in the hospitality and customer service industry.  While in Canada, Mr. Lorenzo has tirelessly and courageously advocated for improving the living and working conditions of migrant workers in Canada. In 2014,  Arthur acted as a whistleblower by exposing exploitative working and living conditions he and his colleagues had endured. His advocacy was profiled in a CBC Newfoundland exposé that documented his experiences working in Labrador City.

Unable to find work in Labrador, Arthur resettled in British Colombia, where he has been an active member of the West Coast Domestic Workers Association; a volunteer participant and social group co-facilitator with the Rainbow Refugee Society; a volunteer participant with Mosaic Settlement services, and an active member of Vancouver Association of Survivors of Torture (VAST). Through his extensive volunteer activities advocating for compassion and fairness for vulnerable groups, Arthur has been a pillar in numerous communities. He has attempted to transform his own negative experiences by helping others who face barriers to inclusion.

Arthur’s advocacy has also focused on the intersection of LGBTQ and migration issues, a group that faces unique vulnerabilities under Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker program. Through volunteering, educating and advocacy, Arthur has provided crucial leadership in an emerging area of policy.

Arthur has made significant sacrifices to come to work to Canada. Taking a stand against workplace abuse has also come at a cost to him. By courageously speaking up about exploitative working conditions, Arthur has played a key role in shedding light on problems with the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. He should be given the opportunity to remain in Canada, obtain work, and continue his vital community-based work. As the federal government is about to announce changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program on January 30th, the moral and humane step is to defer Arthur’s deportation.

I am asking you to intervene and cancel Arthur’s removal from Canada, which is scheduled for January 26, 2017 at 10:30pm.

Thank you for considering this request. I look forward to your prompt response.

Sincerely,

[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!

 

Press Release: Angry migrant workers respond to TFW review by descending on Cambridge MP’s office

Press Release: Angry migrant workers respond to TFW review by descending on Cambridge MP’s office.
What: Delegation to Constituency office of Bryan May

Where: 534 Hespeler Road, Cambridge

When: September 20, 3:45 pm.

Who: Justice for Migrant Workers (J4MW) is a grassroots advocacy group based in Toronto, Leamington and Mexico City. Composed of migrant workers and allies, we fight for improved rights and protections for workers in Canada’s various labour-migration programs including the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program.

Cambridge, September 20, 2016. Activist group J4MW is organizing an angry delegation to Bryan May’s constituency office today to respond to the deeply flawed Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) review. Members of J4MW will arrive at 3:45pm pm at May’s office which is located at 543 Hespeler Road Unit A4 in Cambridge, Ontario.

Bryan May served as Chair of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills, Social Development and Persons with Disabilities (HUMA), the committee that oversaw the TFW report.

“The report provides only band-aid solutions to a critical crisis facing our communities. We need to alleviate this crisis by granting permanent residency status for migrant workers,” says Claudia Espinoza, an organizer with Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW).

Justicia for Migrant workers is currently undertaking a 30-day caravan across Ontario to highlight the exploitative conditions faced by migrants working predominantly in agriculture. Today the caravan is in Cambridge with the delegation to May’s office and later this evening visiting with local allies in the Kitchener area.

“The Liberals provided a half-baked and extremely vague report that leaves many questions unanswered,” continues Espinoza. “We will continue to mobilize and to organize with migrant workers and their allies toward building a society where migrants are accorded dignity and humanity and we end the apartheid conditions that exists across Canada.”

The Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) is a labour-migration program that brings tens of thousands of Caribbean and Mexican workers annually to toil in fields across Canada. Migrant workers who arrive under this program face many challenges working in Canada, including: having work permits tied to a single employer; being under constant threat of deportation by employers; and ineligibility for permanent residency regardless of how many years they have worked in Canada. See more information at the Harvesting Freedom Caravan website http://www.harvestingfreedom.org

The call for permanent immigration status on landing for migrant workers is the joint position of all major migrant worker groups in Canada, see http://www.migrantrights.ca

Media contact: Tzazna Miranda, 647 618 5325

“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