Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Migrant worker report released

The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) have released their 9th annual status of migrant farm workers in Canada report . While understandably Ontario focused, this report provides quite a shocking look into the working conditions facing workers from other countries who travel to Canada to harvest our crops.

The report focuses on workers who come to Canada under the Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (CSAWP), and the Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) Program for Occupations Requiring Lower Levels of Formal Training. Both of these programs provide migrant workers with access to few of the workplace rights Canadians take for granted.

The consequence of these programs (which provide cheap labour to Canadian farmers) are borne by the workers. Government statistics in Alberta show 74% of Alberta’s 407 TFW employers inspected had violated the Employment Standards Code regarding pay rates and record keeping. Workers were being short changed on the hours they worked and the pay they received. Threats of reprisals mean Alberta’s complaint-driven enforcement approach is all but useless.

A study of Ontario migrant farm workers found nearly half of workers reported working while sick or injured was the norm due to fear of reprisal. Half of those ordered to work with chemicals and pesticides reported necessary safety gear (e.g., gloves, masks, and goggles) were not provided. Most workers received no safety training and only 24% of those injured filed a workers’ compensation claim due to fear of being docked pay, repatriated, or being blacklisted from returning the next season.

Canadians wouldn’t accept this sort of treatment. Why do governments expect migrant workers to do so?

-- Bob Barnetson

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