AWA anti-discrimination campaign nets results

Quebec agricultural operations that deduct a housing charge from Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) have lowered their fees after it was noted the rate they were charging was higher than the maximum allowed under provincial labour regulations.

The move came after Quebec’s Labour Standards Board advised both the Guatemalan consulate and FERME (a farm lobby group) that the $45 a week for housing that had been deducted from the pay of about 4,000 Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) from Guatemala is in violation of the $20 a week maximum allowed under provincial labour standards. The $45 levy had originally been negotiated between FERME and Guatemalan authorities, and was approved by the federal government.

“We are glad the board has acted to end this flagrant violation of provincial regulations,” says Andrea Galvez, UFCW Canada national representative and coordinator of the Agriculture Workers Alliance (AWA) support centre in Saint-Rémi, Que. “For many years, we have voiced our concern about discriminatory contracts and other violations forced on migrant farm workers in Quebec.”

Those concerns led to two complaints filed in Quebec last year, including one, filed with the Human Rights Commission, that TFW contracts violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in their denial of equal treatment for TFWs. That charge is proceeding. A second complaint was filed with the standards board on behalf of 40 Guatemalan workers being overcharged. Those pay deductions have now been reduced to $20 a week for those workers and other TFWs working on Quebec farms.

“Collectively, TFWs in Quebec were being overcharged more than $100,000 a week,” says Galvez. “It’s been like that since 2003, so a retroactive remedy also needs to be considered.”

Sister Galvez adds, “Housing is just one of many issues faced by these workers. As we have for the last 10 years, the AWA will continue its efforts to make sure the labour and human rights of these workers are respected.”

DIRECTIONS • Vol. X No. 12 • March 29, 2010