(Canadian OH&S News) — Temporary foreign workers in Canada’s agriculture sector frequently face human-rights abuses in their workplaces, according to a new joint report from the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Canada and the Agriculture Workers Alliance.
Published online on Oct. 27, The Status of Migrant Farm Workers in Canada 2015 explored the vulnerability of the country’s 45,000-plus migrant farm workers to exploitation and discrimination, due to a lack of legal rights. Dangerous living and working conditions, unpaid work hours and the constant threat of repatriation are among the abuses that these workers deal with; the report’s introduction compared their situation to that of agriculture workers in the 19th century.
“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,” UFCW Canada national president Paul Meinema said, as quoted in a press release announcing the report. “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 nonexistent.”
Meinema added that migrant workers on farms risk immediate repatriation for raising concerns about oh&s, the work environment and housing conditions, unless their farms are unionized. But in Ontario, the Labour Relations Act does not permit agriculture workers to form unions, while almost everywhere in Canada, migrant farm workers are also excluded from employment standards and oh&s regulations.
“Canada can do better,” said 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.”
The report made 19 recommendations for reform regarding the treatment of migrant agricultural workers, including the following:
— transferable work permits that allow workers to change employers;
— a transparent appeal process for repatriation cases;
— frequent and random inspections of workers’ accommodations;
— all signage, instructions and other written materials to be multilingual;
— termination from the Temporary Foreign Worker Program of any employer who holds workers’ personal documents;
— a pathway to permanent residence for all migrant workers;
— repeals of Quebec’s Bill 8 and Ontario’s Agricultural Employees Protection Act; and
— amendment of Ontario’s Labour Relations Act to allow farm workers to unionize.
“A fairer balance must be struck,” the report concluded. “It is a matter of justice and human rights in the face of a current system that perpetuates global exploitation and abuse.”
The Status of Migrant Farm Workers in Canada 2015 is available for online download at http://www.ufcw.ca/templates/ufcwcanada/images/directions15/october/1586/MigrantWorkersReport2015_EN_email.pdf.