|Video still taken in a bunkhouse at a farm in Ontario (CTV News)
Toronto – August 23, 2023 – UFCW Canada is demanding the Ford government take action in response to an Ontario farm owner retaliating against migrant workers who were speaking out about unacceptable housing conditions.
The union calls upon the Ford government to include all agricultural workers, both local and migrants, in the Ontario Labour Relations act, protecting their right to freedom of association.
Five Jamaican migrant workers were recently repatriated due to speaking up about unacceptable housing conditions. These workers held a one-day strike to protest the poor housing conditions provided by the employer, where sewage was spilling over into their living quarters.
Ontarians are shocked by the videos obtained by CTV News Toronto showing rows of toilets flooded to the brim, overflowing into the rest of the bunkhouse. In another video, the farm owner verbally threatened and abused the group of migrant agricultural workers.
“You guys can clean the goddamn thing out," the man yells while standing in the middle of a bunkhouse of workers.
The man can be heard telling the migrant workers that they cannot stop working in protest of the sewage spilling into their living quarters.
“If you choose not to work today, that will be a problem,” he says. “You don't pick and choose the day you want to work.”
In response to the one-day strike, the farm owner repatriated the workers to Jamaica, where the Jamaican government is now investigating the incident.
“They were standing up for us,” a Jamaican worker still on the farm told CTV News Toronto.
Under current Ontario legislation, the workers are lacking in mechanism to protect their rights. “If these workers were unionized, they would have been able to exercise their right to strike,” says Santiago Escobar, National Representative at UFCW Canada. “The current legislation, the Agricultural Employees Protection Act, bans local and migrant agricultural workers from being able to access the same fundamental labour rights as everyone else – despite being one of the most vulnerable worker populations in the country.”
In 2010, the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO) ruled that Canada and Ontario, through Ontario’s ban on farm unions, violated the human rights of the more than 100,000 migrant and domestic agriculture workers in the province. In 2017, the Government of Canada finally ratified core ILO convention 98 on the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, which has been on the books as a core convention since 1949. Despite this, the federal government has done nothing to call out Ontario’s continued denial of fundamental labour rights to agricultural workers.
“Workers are left without a mechanism to protect themselves against the intolerable power imbalance in the heart of Canada’s food production system,” says Escobar. “If the Ford government were serious about tackling the shameful treatment of migrant workers in Ontario, it would immediately provide agricultural workers equal access to the Ontario Labour Relations Act.”
In addition, UFCW Canada calls on the Federal Government to establish a federal tribunal to allow for the review and appeal of repatriation decisions in advance of temporary foreign workers being sent home by employers and make unionization mandatory to protect the well-being of migrant workers.