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.

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?

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