Workers Health & Safety Centre

Toronto Hot Docs Festival features film on plight of migrant workers

Toronto Hot Docs Festival features film on plight of migrant workers
“I think is it important for us to see the stories and the human labour behind the tomatoes we use in our salads and on our pizzas and to recognize that there’s a growing population of workers in Canada who have very compromised rights.”
– Min Sook Lee

The plight of migrant farm workers both in Canada and the United States has been well documented in a variety of media over the years.

Equally well documented is the tireless work of the late activist and labour leader Cesar Chavez, who made it his life’s work to bring about justice and better working conditions for farm workers, and who died in 1993.

So why then, more than 20 years later, do the media and activists still concern themselves with migrant workers? Short answer, very little has changed. Experiences captured in a new documentary entitled, Migrant Dreams would surely have caused Chavez much pain.

Directed by Min Sook Lee the documentary tells the story of migrant agricultural workers in Ontario and their struggle for health, safety and labour rights – rights to which most other workers in Ontario are entitled.
The film features a group of largely Indonesian migrant agricultural workers, most of them women, who have been recruited to work in Leamington greenhouse operations, where they pack vegetables. They are recruited by agents who illegally charge upwards to $700 in agency fees. When the workers get to Canada, they face deplorable living and working conditions.

These migrant workers are made to work with toxic pesticides without appropriate protection. Among other health issues, they suffer from lung infections and skin boils, related to the chemicals used in the greenhouses.

Despite recommendations made by an Expert Panel more than five years ago, farm workers in Ontario which include greenhouse workers, are still not covered by regulations governing chemical exposures – regulations such as WHMIS and those that set thresholds for chemical occupational exposure levels.

Like all other Ontario workers, farm workers however, are covered by the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, which affords them the right to refuse unsafe work and legally prohibits employer reprisals for workers exercising this right or any worker right under the Act. Min Sook Lee explained in a recent CBC radio interview though, workers are afraid to speak up for fear of reprisals such as deportation. Her film then, makes it quite clear the problem is also one of a lack of enforcement.

Migrant Dreams is premiering at the Hot Docs International Film Festival in Toronto. The next screening is May 8, 2016, 1:00 pm at the TIFF Bell Lightbox 2. It is also showing at the DOXA Documentary Film Festival in Vancouver, BC, May 7, 2016, at 2:00 pm and at the NORTHWESTFEST in Edmonton, AB, May 11, 2016 at 6:00 pm, Landmark Cinemas City Centre.

Want to know more about the Migrant Dreams documentary?

Want to know more about migrant workers in Canada?

Want to know more about Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act and related regulations?
Or call: 1-888-869-7950 and ask to speak to a training services representative.