Workers at Ontario farm stranded and shortchanged under Canadian federal government migrant worker program
These four men were among 130 migrant agriculture workers cheated of their pay at a Simcoe, Ontario farm operation
More than 130 migrant agriculture workers from Mexico and the Caribbean have gone home cheated of thousands of dollars, after the Ontario farm they worked at filed an intent to get creditor protection. Workers had not been paid since early November, after the owner departed for California. He has yet to return.
The workers from Mexico, Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad were employed at the Ghesquiere Plant Farm near Simcoe, Ontario. They were contracted to Ghesquiere under the federal government’s Canadian Seasonal Agriculture Workers Program (CSAWP).
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“This is a very bad situation,” said Francis Gibson, a longtime CSAWP worker from Barbados who only worked for the first time at Ghesquiere this season. “What I don’t understand is how a farm that was known to have money problems can be part of the program? We came here and worked hard and put money in the farmer’s pocket. But now we’re going home and our pockets are empty.”
More than 28,000 migrant agriculture workers come to Canada each season under the CSAWP but once workers arrive, the CSAWP provides little protection or follow-up regarding housing or workplace issues. It is unlikely that any of the workers will see the money they are owed.
The case was the same for more than 200 migrant workers at Rol-Land Farms in Cambridge, Ontario — an industrial-scale mushroom growing facility, where in 2008 the migrant workers were fired without notice a week before Christmas and repatriated the next day after the employer filed for creditor protection.
“The employers are protected but people doing the work are left defenseless by the federal government’s indifference to the abuse faced by migrant farm workers,” says Wayne Hanley, the national president of UFCW Canada.
“Ontario’s ban on farm unions makes it even worse by denying farm workers the health, safety and workplace protections they would have under a collective agreement. Both the federal and Ontario governments are complicit in a system that violates workers’ rights to fatten the profits of corporate agriculture.”
The United Nations agrees with that assessment. On November 17 its agency for labour standards, the International Labour Organization, ruled on a UFCW Canada complaint and found both Canada and Ontario guilty of violating the Freedom of Association rights of Ontario agriculture workers.