By Chris Ramsaroop
As Canada lobbies members of CARICOM for a seat on the UN Security Council, we take this opportunity to highlight the labour and human right conditions faced by Caribbean and Mexican migrant labourers who are employed in Canada under the auspices of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (CSAWP). Since 1966 hundreds of thousands of Caribbean migrant workers have toiled under precarious and exploitative conditions as a result of restrictive immigration laws that bind workers to one employer and labour laws that deny agricultural workers rights and benefits that workers in other industries enjoy.
To be clear this is not about one or two rotten apples but a structure that prospers from an unequal power balance that favours employers. Countless workers have raised concerns about being disbarred from the program for simply exerting their rights at work. Hundreds if not thousands of workers have been injured or sick whose health has vastly deteriorated as a result of being denied equal access to healthcare in Canada and arbitrary and discriminatory system of unilateral repatriations that download healthcare costs to an already overburdened system in the Caribbean.
Benefits and entitlements such as Employment Insurance (EI) have been curtailed denying migrant farm workers equal and fair access into a system that their hard earn wages pay into. Retired migrant workers are denied equal access to Canada’s social safety net to benefits that Canadian residents enjoy.
While the Caribbean has been shaped by a vibrant and militant labour movement, Canada denies farm workers the right to organize and to collectively bargain a right that should be enjoyed by all workers.
Canada has implemented a system of biometrics that criminalizes the Caribbean community on their entry to Canada. This is in addition to other attempts by Canada to criminalize and racially profile Caribbean labourers. In 2013, near London Ontario a group of approximately 100 migrant workers from the Caribbean were subjected to a racially discriminatory DNA sweep where the farm workers felt compelled to provide their DNA to the police. The workers were targeted because they were migrant labourers from the Caribbean, something that should be concerning to all those who care about fairness and justice.
To date, in spite of the countless deaths that have occurred because of deplorable, dangerous and deadly conditions, there has never been a coroner’s inquest into the death of a migrant farm worker anywhere in Canada.
Canada’s overtures to seek admission to the UN Security Council should be roundly dismissed. Rather than discuss Canada’s attempts to greatly enhance its power and influence, the focus should be on the human dignity of the women and men who put food on the table for millions of people across Canada and the world.
Canada has long enjoyed a colonial relationship with the countries of the Caribbean. From predatory practices of Canadian banking institutions to the role of Canadian companies operating in extractive resources, Canada has profited immensely off of the land, sea and people of the Caribbean.
We urge you to take a firm stand and demand answers from Canada. The CARICOM leaders don’t need platitudes. They should insist that Canada end practices that consign migrant labourers to conditions of unfree labour in a so called first world country. We urge you to join us and denounce Canada’s 54 year history of racism and grant migrant labourers the same rights that all workers should deserve.
Chris Ramsaroop is an organizer with Justice for Migrant Workers (Toronto).