Workers Health & Safety Centre

New report flags continuing abuse of migrant agriculture workers in Canada

New report flags continuing abuse of migrant agriculture workers in Canada
A new report from UFCW Canada and the Agriculture Workers Alliance (AWA) reveals many of Canada’s more than 45,000 migrant and temporary agriculture workers face discrimination.
 
The Status of Migrant Farm Workers in Canada 2015, details how this mostly invisible workforce, hidden away in agriculture centres across Canada, is left vulnerable because of legislative and regulatory discrimination. Migrant agriculture workers are denied basic workplace, labour, and health and safety rights most other workers take for granted.
 
“While agriculture has evolved into a large scale, industrial enterprise, those who do the backbreaking work are essentially powerless in the face of a system that often treats agriculture workers more like disposable commodities than human beings,” says Paul Meinema, national president of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union Canada.
 
For more than three decades, UFCW Canada in association with the AWA has operated migrant agriculture worker support centres in agriculture centres across Canada. Over the past decade, the centres’ staff have documented the concerns of thousands of migrant agriculture workers regarding unpaid work time, hazardous working and living conditions, and arbitrary repatriation.
 
Migrant agriculture workers are more vulnerable than the general Canadian workforce and do some of the most dangerous work there is, yet their legal rights are almost non-existent,” says the UFCW Canada leader. “Unless their workplace is unionized, migrant agriculture workers face the threat of arbitrary repatriation the moment they raise any concerns about working conditions, health and safety, or substandard housing.”
 
Currently, in Ontario – the province with the largest agriculture workforce – workers in the sector are excluded from unionizing under the Ontario Labour Relations Act. In most jurisdictions across the country, migrant agriculture workers are also restricted from the fullest protection of provincial employment standards and health and safety regulations.
 
Here in Ontario, this remains the case despite the Expert Panel report in 2010 that recommended the province address this inequity in health and safety law. At the time the government promised to implement the report in its entirety.
 
Migrant and temporary agriculture worker programs in Canada are regulated by the federal government, and typically tie a worker to one employer with no option to seek another if there is a workplace problem. Providing transferable work permits is just one of the report’s 19 recommended legal reforms to provide fair treatment for migrant agriculture workers. 
 
“Canada can do better and that is certainly the case when it comes to fair treatment for the men and women who come to Canada to put food on our tables,” says Meinema. “Migrant agriculture workers make a vital and tremendous contribution to our community, and deserve fairness, safety, and the same legal rights as other workers in Canada.”
 
For our part, the Workers Health & Safety Centre continues to assist all workers including migrant and temporary agriculture workers through training programs and information services aimed at raising awareness about workplace hazards and targeting prevention at the workplace level. 
 
To learn more:
Visit www.whsc.on.ca or
Call 1-888-869-7950 and ask to speak to a WHSC training services representative.
 
Want to read The Status of Migrant Workers in Canada 2015 report?
 
Want more information on the Agriculture Workers Alliance and UFCW Canada and their work with migrant agriculture workers?