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Report/Press release

Justicia Open Statement to Joe Volpe

Date

2004-05-25

Authors

Justicia for Migrant Workers

Abstract

en members of Justicia for Migrant Workers met this afternoon with federal Immigration Minister Joe Volpe at a conference held at Hart House at the University of Toronto to demand status for the thousands of workers denied residency status due to our unjust laws. Minister Volpe gave his card to organizer Chris Ramsaroop and promised to meet with a delegation from J4MW in the near future.

Series title

Justice For Migrant Workers

Full text

Open statement to Minister of Immigration Joe Volpe
Presented to the Minister on May 25, 2004
University of Toronto
Minister Volpe,
Today we have come to express our anger and disappointment at the continued
ignorance and indifference of your government to the plight of foreign migrant
farm workers in Canada. The treatment of migrant farm workers who are employed
under the auspices of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program is one of this
nation’s dirty secrets. This dirty secret reflects a continued systemic denial
of the racially exploitative nature of the SAW program that perpetuates an
indentured system of bonded labour on the over 20,000 Mexican and Caribbean
farm workers currently employed in Canada.
Despite migrant workers’ centrality to its economy, Canada has not signed
several relevant ILO and UN treaties (including the 1949 ILO Migration for
Employment Convention, the 1975 Migrant Workers (Supplementary Provisions)
Convention, or the 1990 UN International Convention on the Protection of the
Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families), nor has it
implemented adequate local legislation to protect the rights and health of
these and other agricultural workers. In Ontario, where there were over 300
work-related deaths in the last decade alone, agricultural workers are excluded
from the Health and Safety Act and most aspects of the Employment Standards
Act. They are also prohibited the right to bargain collectively or to refuse
dangerous work.
Our web site (http://www.justicia4migrantworkers.org) documents many
of the concerns of migrant workers, which amount to slave-like conditions, including:
working 12-15 hour days without overtime or holiday pay; substandard housing with
inadequate facilities; overt racism and abuse; pay discrimination between
migrant and Canadian workers; numerous pay deductions – including millions of
dollars in unemployment insurance every year – which workers will never benefit
from; inadequate representation in policy negotiations and contract disputes;
inability to claim residency in Canada despite numerous years of work in the
country; lack of appeals process when workers are dismissed or not invited
back; long and painful separations from workers’ families; barriers to
essential services; and a lack of English training furthering the isolation of
workers who do not speak English.
On December 18, 2003 members of Justicia for Migrant Workers led a delegation
to your office in order to raise awareness of this issue with your staff. At
that point, it was promised that in your capacity as Minister of Human
Resources you would meet with representatives of our organization in order to
address our concerns. However, we never received a follow-up from your office.
A year and a half later we return today to this campus, where many of us are students, staff and faculty, to continue raising our concerns about the ongoing
discrimination against migrant farm workers in Canada. As Minister of
Immigration you now have the power to address one of the long-standing
grievances that workers have had with the program—the continued denial of
permanent residency to the tens of thousands of migrant farm workers who toil
in Canada year after year.
In our outreach work, the workers regularly articulate their frustration at
being treated as slaves with no rights within Canada, and their disappointment
over the continual denial of their hopes to one day be able to live in Canada
permanently. As organizers working with these men and women, we believe that
there must be an immediate termination of the precarious nature of their
status. There is no justification for these workers—a majority of whom have
worked for many years in Canada for periods of up to eight months a year—to be
permanently subjugated to the title of guest worker. How do you explain to
those who put food on our table, who sustain our economy with their labour,
that they are nothing more than expendable labour? Have Canadians still not
come to terms with our racialized legacy of exclusion that continues to dictate
our response to migrant worker demands? You may continue to plead ignorance
about the conditions that farm workers face in Canada, but consider the
academic evidence that has emerged over the past two decades on this crucial
issue.
For example, in his Racism and the Incorporation of Farm Labour Since 1945,
sociologist Vic Satzewich writes that Canada’s racist denial of residency to
migrant farm workers was based on the following three reasons:
(1) immigration officials were fearful of black workers engaging in interracial
relationships with white women;
(2) officials were concerned with reproducing racial strife similar to what was
occurring in the southern United States during the 1960s;
(3) government officials were concerned that black workers could not adapt to
the geographic climate of Canada’s harsh winter.
Furthermore, Nandita Sharma argues that “by rendering a growing number and
proportion of people as ‘non-immigrant,’ non-permanent residents, the Canadian
government is regulating (and exacerbating) a racialized and gendered labour
market through processes of nationalization that positions ‘migrant workers’ as
a separate legal category of humans who are denied the services and protections
available to those classified as ‘citizens’ or ‘permanent residents’ (Canadian
Women Studies Spring/Summer 2002). See also the numerous works by
University of Windsor Professor Tanya Basok that document in detail the living and
working conditions of Mexican workers in Ontario.
As advocates we believe it is imperative that you and your immigration
officials implement the demands expressed by the workers. First, let us share
with you what one worker wants from our government. He wants to apply for
permanent status here in Canada, minister, and would like to contribute to our
society in any way he can. He is a mason by trade and is skilled in many other
trades. As a father of six, he wishes for his family to be with him in Canada—a
2basic wish for any person. However, he became permanently injured while working
in an apple orchard here (his cornea was destroyed) and as a result of the
continuing medical treatment he needs, he has not seen his family in over a
year.
As a second example, consider the plight of migrant farm worker Ned Livingstone
Peart, a Jamaican who died working in our fields. Your government has refused
to treat his family with the decency and respect they deserve. His dependents
have lost their sole breadwinner. Will your government stand up and take
responsibility by granting this family residency status?
Justicia for Migrant Workers urges your government to consider the following
policy options to address the concerns of the over 20,000 migrant farm workers
who work across Canada:
1) Permanent residency status be provided for workers currently employed under
the auspices of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program
2) Permanent residency status be provided retroactively for workers previously
employed under the auspices of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program
3) Provisions for family reunification be included to allow families of migrant
farm workers to apply for residency status in Canada
4) A program of regularization be initiated for all non-status peoples in
Canada
5) The implementation of an appeals process to prevent unilateral repatriation
of migrant workers without representation
6) The process of citizenship be expedited for migrant workers who marry
Canadian residents
We encourage you to visit our web site, www.justicia4migrantworkers.org, for
more information regarding the plight of migrant workers in Canada and our
policy suggestions. We look forward to hearing your response.
Submitted by
Justicia for Migrant Farm Workers Collective
P.O. Box 1261 Station K
Toronto, ON, Canada M4P 3E5
info@justicia4migrantworkers.org
http://www.justicia4migrantworkers.org
3

Links

Economic sectors

Agriculture and horticulture workers

Content types

Policy analysis and Documented cases of abuse

Target groups

Policymakers and Public awareness

Regulation domains

Right to unionize, Labour standards, Health and safety at work, Health care & social services, Access to permanent status, Free employment services, Family reunification, Employment insurance, Impartial hearing before deportation, Status regularization procedures, Determination fair wages and labour shortage, Right to equality (national origin), Right to equality (social status), and Right to dignity

Geographical focuses

Ontario

Languages

English