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The UFCW Canada National Council Human Rights, Equity & Diversity (HRED) Committee met recently in Winnipeg, Manitoba for the first of two yearly meetings. Naveen Mehta, director of UFCW Canada’s HRED Department is also the chair of the committee. In addition to the comprehensive reports from the social justice initiatives and community outreach being conducted by the National Office and Local unions across Canada, the HRED Committee welcomed several impassioned guest speakers from organizations with whom UFCW Canada works.
“Connecting community groups, NGOs and social justice activists to our National Committee, and the Local Unions they represent, are a primary focus. The UFCW Canada HRED Committee strongly believes that if we are to achieve progressive social and economic targets we can only do so if we work directly with sisters and brothers from like-minded organizations,” said Brother Mehta. “If there is one thing we know as trade unionists it is that our true strength lies in working collectively. Such strength should never be underestimated.”
UFCW Canada’s commitment to building genuine and positive partnerships was highlighted by the blossoming relationship between Local 832 with its community allies Migrante Manitoba, represented by Jomay Amora-Mercado, and Damayan Manitoba. One example of the ways in which these groups are collaborating is the use of the Local 832 offices by Migrante Manitoba and Damayan activities. Marco Luciano, Migrante Canada Coordinator, also in Winnipeg, expressed his enthusiasm about the Local 832 active involvement in Migrante initiatives in Manitoba that have directly benefited migrant workers across the province.
The first speaker over the two day meeting was Armando Perla, a researcher from the yet to be completed Canadian Museum for Human Rights and the Migrant Workers Exhibit. Armando expertly gave the Committee a fresh insight on the museum’s virtual floor plan as well as the latest progress on the construction. Perla noted during his presentation that UFCW Canada’s body of work will be part of the Museum exhibits due to its active work and advocacy on behalf of migrant workers.
“We are excited to be a part not only in supporting the CMHR but also in helping to raise further funds for such an exceptional project,” noted Local 832 Secretary Treasurer and HRED Committee Member Jeff Traeger. “As Manitobans, we get a real sense of pride in knowing that this national museum will be located in our great city of Winnipeg and act as an archive and learning centre for generations to come.”
Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society (FNCFCS), gave a powerful presentation about some of FNCFCS’s current initiatives: Jordan’s Principle, Shannen’s Dream, I am a Witness Campaign, and Touchstones of Hope. She urged the committee to disseminate information about these national initiatives to their respective Local unions and membership. Committee members also took the time to sign up online for the I am a Witness campaign and expressed their intent to encourage other UFCW members to sign up as well.
“I was quite moved by Cindy’s presentation,” said Local 1000A Secretary Treasurer and HRED Committee Member Tony Soares. “It really brought home the extraordinary inequities that exist in the treatment and services available to aboriginal children across Canada as compared to non-aboriginal children. It is a national disgrace that has only become worse under the Harper Tories.”
The Committee also met with Jennifer Howard, Minister of Labour & Immigration for Manitoba. Minister Howard spoke eloquently about Manitoba’s Provincial Nominee Program and the legislative protections in place in the province for migrant workers.
Ricardo De Menezes, the UFCW Canada Local 401 representative from Alberta on the HRED committee, was “impressed by the progressive legislation that had been achieved when you elect a labour-friendly government such as in Manitoba. “In Alberta, we have a very anti-labour government. Legislation that actually provides comprehensive safeguards for working families is still an unrealized dream.”
As well, the HRED Committee also had the chance to meet with Miguel Dominguez, uncle of Juan Diego Mosquera of Colombia who was one of the winners of exceptionally successful UFCW Canada’s 2010 Migrant Workers Scholarships. A former member of UFCW Canada Local 832, Dominguez was publicly acknowledged and congratulated by Local 832 President, Robert Ziegler.
Finally, David Matas, a Human Rights lawyer and counsel for the “Three Amigos,” discussed the unfortunate story of Ermie Zotomayor, Antonio Laroya and Arnisito Gaviola and how the immigration system in Canada quickly failed the Filipino migrant workers. The men each paid $3,000 to a recruiter in 2007 to find them service jobs in Canada. They got their work permits and shared a trailer in High Prairie, Alberta while working at a gas station and restaurant; sending money home to their wives and children in the Philippines. They were laid off following an economic downturn and offered similar jobs in Manitoba. They went to work in February at a Thompson gas station for $10 an hour but, unbeknownst to them, did not have the necessary work permit for the job. Federal agents arrested them for working illegally. All three are facing deportation. Local 832 has also been working with Migrante Manitoba to support the men.
Vol. XI No. 19 • May 9, 2011