As Canada expands its use of migrant workers, the already weak rules to protect them from abuse are getting even weaker according to the latest Report on the Status of Migrant Farm Workers in Canada.
The report is published annually by UFCW Canada (the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada union) which for more than a decade has acted as an advocate for the tens of thousands of temporary migrant agricultural workers brought to Canada each season. UFCW Canada operates seven Migrant Worker Support Centres across Canada where migrant farm workers are predominantly located.
“If you’ve got problems keep them to yourself or you’ll be sent packing. That’s the implicit threat that many of these workers tell us they continue to face each day,” says Wayne Hanley, the National President of UFCW Canada, “and what little protection the system offers them now is getting worse."
Since 1966 migrant agricultural workers have been brought to Canada under the Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (CSAWP) administered by the federal government. Under the program more than 20,000 workers were brought to Canada in 2007 from Mexico, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). They are paid minimum wage and some of the workers are subject to working and housing conditions that Canadians would find intolerable. Workers have historically been hesitant to report dangerous working conditions or hostile employers for fear of being sent home or blacklisted from returning the next season.
“We’re concerned the federal government has done nothing to address the many serious issues facing migrant farm workers enrolled in CSAWP,” says Hanley, “and instead is now expanding its Low Skilled Temporary Foreign Worker Program which offers even less protection to migrant workers.”
"Just because they're foreigners doesn't make it excusable. The Canadian Charter guarantees fundamental rights to all people in Canada including migrants, yet Canada continues to decline signing on to the UN International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families,” said Hanley.
“How committed is this government to the protection of minorities when it chooses to make weak regulations on how we treat foreign workers even weaker?”
The Report on the Status of Migrant Farm Workers in Canada, 2006-2007 can be obtained online In Acrobat PDF format at http://ufcw.ca/migrantreport .