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Migrant Agricultural Workers Shut Out from Secretive Government Consultations

Consultations are being facilitated by well-known agricultural employer lobbyist Hill & Knowlton Canada

OTTAWA - Migrant agricultural worker organizations across Canada are outraged at closed door consultations on changes to the agricultural stream of the temporary foreign worker program which have shut out workers, and which refuse to focus on worker concerns. The federal government began invitation-only meetings with big business lobby groups in late May. Migrant worker groups have either been invited late or not at all, despite repeated requests to be part of the discussions.

“It would be unthinkable for the the federal government to craft regulations that might affect women’s issues and not invite women to the table, but they feel comfortable excluding migrant agricultural workers and their advocates from rules and policies that deeply impact their lives. It’s unbelievable,” says Joey Calugay of the Immigrant Workers Centre in Quebec. “Migrant workers deserve a seat at the table, and they want the right to permanent status upon landing.”

Migrant workers in the primary agriculture stream are restricted to working only for the employer listed on their work permit. They are in large part allowed to only live in employer-controlled housing. In some provinces they are excluded from, or face restrictions on collective bargaining, and are often exempted from minimum wage, overtime hours, and other basic employment standards. Employers are allowed to fire and send migrant agricultural workers home if they are injured or fall sick. Workers pay most taxes but often can’t get full access to EI, CPP or other entitlements. This is why migrant agricultural worker organizations across Canada are unified in calling for permanent residency status on arrival, as well as full labour rights and access to social entitlements.  

“The power imbalance between migrant agricultural workers and employers is well documented, and any meaningful reforms must begin with conversations with migrant workers and their organizations at a time and place where workers can participate, in a language they are comfortable in, and with guarantees that there won’t be employer reprisals,” adds Diwa Marcelino of Migrante from Manitoba.

These consultations, which include federal and provincial policy makers, are being facilitated by Hill and Knowlton Strategies, a lobbying firm that has represented the interests of agricultural employers throughout Canada. This is a gross conflict of interest. In 2017, Hill and Knowlton lobbied Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada 53 times, often on behalf of different employer and employer lobby organizations.

“There are no migrant workers in the rooms for these conversations, it’s mostly employers and it’s being facilitated by their own lobbyists. How can any meaningful changes that reflect the needs of migrant workers come from this process?” asks Syed Hussan of Migrant Workers Alliance for Change from Ontario. “We are calling on Minister Hajdu and Minister Hussen to step in and restart this process, this time with migrant worker involvement, and ensure that we are discussing permanent status on landing as a solution.”

“Migrant workers grow food, and feed families, their lives deserve respect and their work deserves our admiration and support which must include their involvement in decisions that impact their lives,” said Byron Cruz from Sanctuary Health in Vancouver, BC. “The fundamental problem with the temporary foreign worker program is the lack of immigration and labour rights, and the first step to correcting it is access to permanent residency status on arrival.”

AVAILABLE FOR COMMENT

  • Joey Calugay, Immigration Workers Centre, Quebec, 514-947-3662
  • Syed Hussan, Coalition for Migrant Worker Rights Canada, Toronto, 416-453-3632
  • Byron Cruz, Sanctuary Health, British Columbia, 604-315-7725
  • Andrew Stevens, Migrant Work Saskatchewan & University of Regina, 306-552-9330
  • Diwa Marcelino, Migrante Manitoba, 204-218-7100
  • Robyn Bunn, RAMA, Kelowna, British Columbia, 250-215-1033


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