Agricultural workers voice concerns over TFWP in B.C., Quebec

A Stakeholder Approach to Growing Canada’s Agricultural Workforce

Abbotsford, B.C. and Saint-Rémi, Que. – October 27, 2018 – Agricultural workers recently met with senior government officials in Abbotsford, British Columbia and Saint-Rémi, Quebec to share their experiences with the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP), and to offer advice as frontline workers for addressing problems with the program, particularly issues surrounding health and safety, housing, harassment, and a lack of basic rights on the job.

Stemming from the Primary Agriculture Review, the meetings in these provinces were the final discussions in a series of government consultations on the TFWP.

The purpose of the review is to provide the federal government with stakeholder input on reforming the agricultural stream of the TFWP, and, more specifically, the recommendations put forward by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills, and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (or HUMA). A video of UFCW Canada’s presentation to the HUMA committee is available for download, as is our written submission to the government.

As the voice of Canada’s food workers, UFCW has played a prominent role in the review process, joining employers and other civil society organizations in putting forward a number of policy ideas, and in working closely with the Agriculture Workers Alliance (AWA) to lead efforts to ensure that migrant workers have a direct say in the review and its outcomes.

During the consultations in Abbotsford and Saint-Rémi, agricultural workers shared the following feedback with senior federal policy makers. To prevent reprisal, some of the identities of the commentators have been modified:

Health and Safety

“I have been working in the program for 12 years and we have never received health and safety training, nor do we have the equipment needed to deal with pesticides. This needs to change, because when we get sick, we are usually kicked out of the program and can't come back. This is also why we don't complaint – we have to be quiet if we want to keep coming to Canada,” said Luis, a migrant farm worker in B.C.

Housing and Harassment at Work

“My last employer was very rude. He retained our passports when we temporarily left the country and made us work 14 hours a day while only paying us for 8 hours. One of our coworkers complained about this and was immediately terminated and blocked from the program. We face permanent harassment and the housing is deplorable, as 18 of us live in a 3-bedroom house,” said Roberto, a migrant worker who has been coming to Canada for the past 9 years under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP).

Basic Rights

“When we were recruited in Honduras by a well-known company from Quebec, we were promised permanent residency and high wages in Canada. But then we had to work over 80 hours per week to make around $250.00. The smell at work was unbearable, resembling ammonia. On top of that, we lived in horrible housing conditions and our passports were retained when we left the country. If we complained about this, the employer told us to get ready to go back to our country,” said Elias, a migrant worker who left this company before his contract expired, as he was tired of permanent harassment and a lack of basic rights at work.

To download UFCW Canada’s paper submission to the Primary Agriculture Review, click here.