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Newspaper article

New protections for migrant farm workers

Date

2009-03-11

Authors

Paul Dalby

Abstract

Mexican migrant workers arriving soon to work on Ontario's farms will, for the first time, have access to Spanish counselling of their rights, 24 hours a day, under provincial laws.

Newspaper title

Northumberland News

Full text

NORTHUMBERLAND - Mexican migrant workers arriving soon to work on Ontario's farms will, for the first time, have access to Spanish counselling of their rights, 24 hours a day, under provincial laws.

The new service is not offered by the government, but by one of Canada's largest labour unions.

Stan Raper, of United Food Commercial Workers Canada in Toronto (UFCW), said it could be the first agreement signed between a foreign state and a labour union, in this case the UFCW.

About 20,000 migrant farm workers come to Canada each year for an eight-month season - and 94 per cent remain in southern Ontario. Mexico and Jamaica are the two biggest sources of the migrant farm workers.

The guarantee of better advocacy on human and labour rights for the Mexican workers came in a landmark cooperation agreement signed by Wayne Hanley, UFCW Canada's national president, and Governor Leonel Godoy Rangel from the Mexican state of Michoacán.

"Now these Mexican workers will be able to access more information and services about Canadian labour laws and their rights, with the clear understanding that it is their right to do so and that it is supported by their own state," Mr. Hanley said. "This will make their working stay in Canada a better and healthier experience for them."

Until now, Mexican farm workers who encountered problems on Ontario farms could only contact the Mexican consulate in Toronto.

"We have found that the foreign consulates simply did not have a good knowledge of provincial codes such as employment standards, EI (Employment Insurance), or workmen's compensation," Mr. Raper said.

All migrant workers pay taxes and EI contributions.

"With 20,000 foreign migrant workers coming here each year, the consulates simply cannot keep up with the huge workload," Mr. Raper said. "Through our regional offices, we can offer a better know-your-rights service."

Mr. Raper said in many cases, migrant workers who complained about their working conditions were simply shipped back to their homelands.

"They are repatriated to their country without any right of appeal, never to be seen again," he said. "To us that seems a bit harsh."

The UFCW estimates there are about 1,000 migrant workers in eastern Ontario, including Northumberland County's apple belt.

"Most of the workers in the apple belt have established a long relationship with the farmers and they have kept them year after year, because they can't get local workers to do the job." he said.

He said there have been some complaints of abuse and staff from UFCW will always travel out to investigate.

The migrant workers come to Canada under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) - a longtime, bilateral agreement between Canada and sending countries. But the SAWP agreement lacks an independent process to mediate workplace grievances.

"We have lobbied the federal and provincial governments for years to do something about this and failed completely," Mr. Raper explained. "So now we have signed an agreement direct with a foreign country to provide the service ourselves."

Links

Economic sectors

Agriculture and horticulture workers

Content types

Policy analysis

Target groups

Public awareness

Geographical focuses

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

Languages

English