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Mexican migrant farm workers in Canada. The evolution of temporary worker programs

Date

2011

Authors

Andrea Gonzalez

Abstract

The transformation of the temporary migration model between Canada and Mexico is characterized by an increased participation of the private sector and a gradual retreat
of the State’s involvement in the management of the labour flows. A comparative analysis between the Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) and the Temporary Foreign Workers Program allows us to establish a list of recommendable practices for the development of future programs of temporary migration.
Until now, the flow of unskilled workers between Mexico and Canada has taken legal, state-managed and socially legitimized paths of migration. This paper pretends to facilitate the development of good practices in migration and labour policy. Although the Canadian foreign farm workers programs might seem desirable in comparison with the American experience, we should not forget the important democratic deficit and the risk of exploitation, abuse and discrimination provoked by deficient governmental regulation.

Notes

A superficial analysis of the Program might lead us to think that the structure of the contract effectively protects the interests of the workers. However, the system allows for systematic abuse and violation or the contract itself. For example, despite the program policy about wages, it is common that migrant workers receive less than Canadians. Provincial legislation regarding maximum working hours in the agricultural sector does not exist, and even if the contract imposes a maximum number of days and hours it is rarely respected. The workers do not receive overtime
payment. Access to the health system in case of illness of work related accident is very difficult. Also, the workers contribute to the social security system with a 2% of their wage, but their temporary stay in Canada makes then inadmissible to claim benefits (p5).

Access to the tribunals is also blocked by the workers temporary status in Canada. The regulation mechanisms created by the SAWP rely on the liaison consular agents capacity to verify workers conditions, but do not take into consideration the absence of financial and human resources of Consulates, and thus fail to guarantee the program’s principles (p6).

even if the cases of serious exploitation and abuse are not the
majority, recent studies of the government of Alberta indicate that 75% of the companies that employ temporary workers violate provincial regulation. The element that worsens the vulnerability of the temporary low skilled workers is the absence of direct regulation and involvement of Canadian and foreign governments. For example, consular staff is not directly responsible to investigate working and living conditions of TFW, and no institutional structure is charged to follow up with their complaints. The Canadian government has the obligation to protect the labour rights of the temporary workers, but labour issues are of provincial jurisdiction and there has been no initiative to promote a harmonized system of migrant workers protection. Access to administrative courts is virtually impossible for a worker who does not know legal the resources available, and even though the resource is exerted, if the labour relation has ended, the worker must leave Canada and that puts an end to the complaint (p8-9).

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Economic sectors

Agriculture and horticulture workers

Content types

Policy analysis

Target groups

Unions and NGOs/community groups/solidarity networks

Geographical focuses

Federal and National relevance

Languages

English