They came to Ontario hoping for a better life for themselves and their families back home.
But migrant workers Umi, Nanik and Dwipa — originally from Indonesia — were cheated by an employment system supposedly designed to support them.
Their story is revealed in a documentary entitled Migrant Dreams
and streaming for free on Al Jazeera all this month
“The federal government has not provided any support centres, any places where migrant workers can go and say, ‘What is happening? What are my rights?’” says community activist Cathy in the documentary. “So they’re really left at the mercy of employers. And I think that this is by design...I think their vulnerability is constructed.”
In Migrant Dreams
, the Leamington, Ontario workers were forced to pay brokers a share of their wages as illegal repayment for getting them to Canada — employers are supposed to bear this cost. If they refused, or were unable to pay, they faced threats of deportation.
There are an estimated 110,000 low-wage migrant workers in Canada with a temporary status. Though it’s unclear how many are indebted to brokers, the workers have few rights and protections.
Under the rules of Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program, agricultural workers are tied to one job with one employer — they can’t change jobs and can be sent home by their employers at any time. They also have no access to permanent residency status.
Unequal protection under OHS law
If this isn’t bad enough, migrant workers also often suffer from a host of work-related health problems, including lung infections and skin boils caused by unprotected chemical use.
Ontario farm workers, including those working in greenhouses and on large factory farms, still aren’t covered by most health and safety regulations. Thus, farm workers are excluded from regulations governing biological and chemical occupational exposure levels, regulations associated with the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System and all other regulatory protections afforded other Ontario workers, with the sole exception of noise regulations. This despite a recommendation made by the Dean Expert Panel and accepted by the government more than seven years ago to right this unequal treatment under the law.
Further, although farm workers 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
, many are afraid to speak up.
“...their employer will send them home on the first flight back if they stand up for their rights,” according to Justicia for Migrant Workers
(J4MW), a volunteer-run political collective that promotes the rights of migrant farm workers and farm workers without status. “When workers become injured on the job, employers and consulate officials send them home at the earliest opportunity, often before proper medical attention is sought.”
Want to know about others working for migrant worker rights?
Want to know more about Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act
and related regulations?
1-888-869-7950 and ask to speak to a training services representative about any number of our training programs