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Abuse of foreign workers must stop - Advocacy group is demanding Action

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Bob Boughner

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The Chatham Daily News

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The exploitation and abuse of foreign national farm workers in Canada can and must stop, says Derry McKeever of Chatham.

A spokesman for an advocacy group known as Friends of Farmworkers, McKeever wants the provincial and federal governments and municipal authorities to raise the issue of worker safety and fairness for all migrant workers living and working in Chatham- Kent.

He is also demanding snap inspections of all workplaces, including farms and greenhouses, a safe housing initiative, enforced effective labour standards, communication access, guaranteed personal safety and respect for those who have no rights in Canada.

McKeever told The Chatham Daily News he brought the unsafe living conditions of Thailand workers at a Wheatley fish processing plant to light 10 months ago.

"I sent letters to both the Chatham-Kent Fire Department and the Chatham- Kent Building Department outlining the unsafe living conditions in a bunkhouse used for workers at the plant,'' he said.

McKeever called it a "recipe for disaster.''

He said he doubted if the workers could have safely made it out of the bunkhouse had a fire occurred.

McKeever said he has made numerous trips to Wheatley to meet with the workers, who have numerous complaints about the company.

Joe Pratas, the 67-year-old owner of the plant, was charged last week with six counts of sexual assault allegedly involving foreign workers stemming back to 2006.

He was released on bail with his next court appearance scheduled for Oct. 14.

The Chatham-Kent building department ordered the bunkhouse shut down last week until a long list of repairs are completed.

Calls to the company Monday were not returned.

Ed Conner, the municipality's acting chief building official, said he wasn't aware of any letter sent by McKeever last November.

"I'm personally not aware of it,'' he said.

Connor said he understood tradespeople were carrying out repairs to the bunkhouse this week and expected the order to be lifted once the requirements were met.

McKeever said living conditions and worker complaints were ignored until the recent police service investigations.

He said a huge rally was staged at Presteve Foods in Wheatley last January to bring the poor living conditions and other concerns of the workers into the open. The event attracted more than 350 people.

McKeever said there is an immediate need for enforcement of labour standards to ensure fair pay, health and safety, living conditions, access to food, telecommunications and a right to visit and receive guests.

He said the Landlord and Tenant Act does not cover migrant farm workers.

"I've been run off many farms in Chatham-Kent by farmers who know they are not covered by the Act and can charge me with trespassing,'' he said.

McKeever said his organization is demanding political action by elected representatives that goes beyond the interest of the employer and allows the same rules applied to migrants as anyone else.

"Human rights must not be ignored to protect employers,'' he said.

He also said arbitrary repatriation must stop.

"Workers can be sent home at the whim of their employer,'' he said.

Canadian Auto Workers Local 444 president Rick Laporte is calling for an investigation into how the federal Seasonal Agricultural Workers program works.

He said the bunkhouse should have housed no more than 20 workers although it had beds for 36.

Laporte said yesterday that he hadn't heard from Thailand officials although he wouldn't be surprised if they called for an investigation into the treatment of their workers.

Bill Dickinson of the Thailand Consulate in Toronto called The Daily News to say he planned to pass the information about treatment of workers over to the appropriate Thailand department in Toronto.


  • Chatham Daily News (http://www.chathamdailynews.ca/2008/09/23/abuse-of-foreign-workers-must-stop)


Abuse, safety, foreign farm workers, living conditions, sexual assault, labour standards

Economic sectors

Agriculture and horticulture workers, Natural resources, agriculture and related production occupations - general, and General farm workers

Content types

Policy analysis, Documented cases of abuse, Support initiatives, and Current Policy

Geographical focuses

Canada, Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec, British Columbia, Other provinces, Federal, Nova Scotia, and National relevance