Migrant workers intensify fight for rights

Migrant workers gather to show and speak about some of their stories of abuse of their rights. By Jasminee Sahoye
Migrant workers gather to show and speak about some of their stories of abuse of their rights.
By Jasminee Sahoye

Migrant workers and their allies from Caregivers Action Centre, Justicia for Migrant Workers and other member organizations of Migrant Workers Alliance for Change have sent a letter to MP Arif Virani, parliamentary assistant to the minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship asking him to address their issues.
“This holiday season as you sit with your family, think also of our families. We would like to sit down with you in the New Year to discuss what migrant workers need and how to create better and fairer laws that recognize our contributions.
“2016 is the 50th year of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program; it is time to turn the clock on 50 years of discrimination.”
They also stated that migrant workers need the same rights as everyone else such as the ability to switch jobs and untied work permits as well as come to Canada with permanent residency and their families, like other immigrants.
The group also decorated the constituency office of Virani.
Last Friday, International Migrant Day was observed and a number of temporary foreign workers shared their stories of struggles and hopes for a better life in Canada but many didn’t have good stories to share.
One man from a Caribbean island, Gabriel, related at an event with advocates and migrant workers about the challenges he has been facing over the three years he has been coming to work on a tomato farm in Leamington, Ontario.
“On the farm where I worked, it was eight people living in one room; that was tough for me.” He added “it was hard adjusting” sharing a space with people who had different lifestyles.
He said they were “pushed” to work hard and that many migrant workers use energy drinks. “This is a thing I never used before but in Canada that was like my daily medicine.”
He added that those who didn’t satisfy the bosses’ needs stood to lose their chances of returning to Canada, so they had to work hard and long hours.
Another migrant farm worker talked about his more than three years in an immigration detention centre with eight months of that time in solitary confinement.
“I’ll tell you a little bit why I’m strong, why this system can’t break me. I’m strong because I have a family that never backed down.” He has subsequently filed immigration documents to gain permanent residency but in the meantime, he said, he has started a grassroots movement to advocate for temporary foreign workers.
The temporary farm worker program will turn 50 next year, with the first batch coming from Jamaica. Mainly men are selected but there have been a few women.
Tricia is from Jamaica and related how she was held in a detention centre for a few months, all in an effort to “put food on the table” for her family, especially a son back in Jamaica.
Advocates for migrant workers are organizing a walk from Windsor to Ottawa to demand justice.
One group, Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW), said over the last 12 months, migrant workers won protections against recruiters in Ontario, forced clawbacks of Caribbean agricultural workers’ wages to be removed; saw two increases to the minimum wage for all Ontario workers; witnessed the movement of support for refugees grow nationwide and launched Canada’s first cross-country migrant worker rights coalition.