From the equality of rights springs identity of our highest interests; you cannot subvert your neighbor's rights without striking a dangerous blow at your own. Carl Schurz

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Who are these people? Why are they here?

 “When we drive around farm country we sometime see people working in fields. People who may not look like us. They are very anonymous. We don’t really know much about them. We don’t really think about them. But I think we should be thinking, “Who are these people? Why are they here? What are they doing? What are their working conditions like? And this apple that I’m eating today that was in my lunch bag — how did it get to me?"

Many of us complain about our commute to work every morning, so imagine what it must be like to have to travel to a foreign country to feed the family you leave behind for several months every year.
Now imagine being forced to do dangerous work and handle hazardous chemicals with no training or protective equipment, forced to live in overcrowded makeshift shanties and be transported from job to job in unsafe transport vans.

That is the lot in life for the more than 40,000 migrant agricultural workers in Canada under the Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program CSAWP), and the Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) Program for Occupations Requiring Lower Levels of Formal Training. Both of these programs are managed by the federal government to supply temporary foreign workers for the Canadian agricultural industry. This employer-driven system aided by the Harper government, is one where workers must accept danger and exploitation if they want to work here. To complain means instant and automatic expulsion and blacklisting from Canada, resulting in all likelihood seeing your family go hungry.

The Canadian Medical Association Journal has published two peer-reviewed articles,which show that a number of workers, experience harsh living and working conditions,causing chronic ailments, many of which are linked to long-term chemical exposure.

In response to these reports, Ken Forth, president of Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services, described the studies as "wild ramblings".

"Universities in Canada don't write one good thing, not one good thing,"

Forth said he did not think the studies warranted an inquiry.

"I don't care what you read. Why would we?"

He also noted that the checks and balances were in place for the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programme, which was implemented in 1966. He said Canada's health department inspects the farms once a year before the farm workers arrive, saying officials usually want the farms inspected before they are allowed to live there.Sure sounds like Harper's kind of guy doesn't he.

In reality workers are bound by contract to a single employer. Their wages, housing and working conditions are imposed by the industry, the Harper government, and their home country. They themselves have no say whatsoever in any of this. Remember if they do complain the employer with the help of our government has them immediately deported and barred from ever working here again

According to The Agriculture Workers Alliance, independent inspection and enforcement of health and labour standards are essentially non-existent. Not surprising since the same is somewhat true throughout industry in Canada. The alliance also notes that the workers have no pathway to permanent immigration status and in a recurring theme through everything I have read on this subject, workers who raise workplace concerns are typically repatriated without recourse to a hearing or legal counsel.

So now you know a little bit more about how that apple that you're eating today that was in your lunch bag — got to you

A new and heartening development
 Migrant workers sue Ottawa and farm for breaching contract, charter rights

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