“Migrant workers need protection, not exploitation,” Tim Maguire, CUPE Local 79 President, says in a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper after the tragic deaths of 10 migrant workers on February 6, 2012.
The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada
Dear Prime Minster Harper,
Basic human rights protections must apply to migrant workers
The tragic deaths of 10 migrant farms workers in Hampstead, Ontario last month has brought the issue of protection and enforcement of basic human rights for these workers into high relief. It is appalling that 10 people had to lose their lives before the working conditions of migrant farm workers in Canada’s Seasonal Worker Program are dealt with in a serious way.
Governments, at all levels, must address the unfair labour practices and intolerable work conditions that 30,000 temporary farm labourers are subjected to, every year, across Canada. 20,000 migrants work in the agricultural sector each season in Ontario. They need protection, not exploitation.
Under the now-deadly phrase ‘flexibility’ workers are being sought and brought to Canada by the Canadian corporate agricultural industry. These seasonal and temporary workers have been denied basic labour and workplace protections and rights. This violation of human rights must cease. A good place to start would be for the Canadian government to sign onto the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, which has been adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.
Prime Minister Harper your government must act now to prevent the exploitation of what has now become a ‘migrant underclass’. National standards must be put in place requiring the provinces and territories to cover foreign workers under Employment Standards and Occupational Health & Safety laws of the province or territory they work in.
Migrant farm workers have been denied the right to unionize in Ontario by a Supreme Court decision handed down on April 29, 2011. This ruling runs counter to the United Nations’ International Labour Organization (ILO) findings in 2010 that found Ontario and Canada guilty of violating international conventions and the human and labour rights of Ontario agricultural workers. One of the most vital protections workers can have, the right to join a union, has been withheld from migrant workers.
There also must be an end to unscrupulous recruiters charging fees for ‘supplying’ a migrant workforce. There must be an end to the reprisals these vulnerable workers face if they dare to report an injury or refuse to perform unsafe work. Finally, there must be an inquest called, immediately, into the deaths of these workers.
The food supply in Canada cannot come at the expense of tens of thousands of migrant workers whose rights, dignity and safety are being denied and sacrificed by corporate partnerships and the federal government.
Tim Maguire, President
c.c. The Honourable Diane Finley, Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development
The Honourable Lisa Raitt, Minister of Labour
The Honourable Dalton McGuinty
Linda Jeffrey, Minister of Labour
Wayne Hanley, National President, United Food and Commercial Workers Canada