Migrant Workers and the struggle for Dignity, Equality and Status

by Peter D’Gama

Recently the death of an injured Jamaican seasonal agricultural worker, reported in the Toronto Star [1] highlighted the inhumane treatment, akin to slavery, to which many such workers are subjected when injured on the job. The struggle to change these conditions has gained impetus as the Temporary Foreign Workers’ Program comes under review. In this struggle migrant workers call for “Landed Status Now!”. Socialist Action spoke in Toronto with Gabriel Allahdua of the Justicia4Migrant Workers collective.

Gabriel, can you tell me how you came to be involved with Justicia4migrantworkers (J4MW)?
I got involved with J4MW when they were organising a vigil for the 10 migrant workers who died in Homestead, in the Kitchener (Ontario) area. [2]
I was one of those invited from my farm to attend. It was my first invite to things of that nature. It was the first time I ever heard of J4MW.
At that event, we were invited to make contributions and this I was longing for as my high expectations of coming to work in a developed country like Canada was very quickly dashed when my high expectations met with reality.
I saw the many challenges faced by migrant workers, the dark side if you will of Canada with working conditions that reflected the 18th century. My first campaign was to fight for Equal Treatment under the Coroners Act, to expose unacceptable and dangerous working conditions that put workers’ lives at risk.

The Temporary Foreign Workers’ Program is very much a policy of the capitalist state to promote accumulation of capital and enhance the profitability of employers rather than promoting the welfare of workers. Can you comment on some of the disparities and unequal rights when it comes to labour law that migrant workers face?
The contract that the migrant worker has with a private employer lacks enforceability. It is a recipe for exploitation and not a recipe for equity. Working and conditions and labour relations reflect those that existed in the 18th century and not that of a modern Canadian Labour law which should be ensuring employers create jobs with safe working conditions. Tying workers to one employer works against any incentive for employers to do this. This unequal relationship, allows employers to exploit the vulnerability of workers to increase their profits rather than create equity. We are asking for equity so that, we can access Employment Insurance (EI) because we make contributions to it . This is why we are asking for immediate landed status and open work permits which would be more equitable for all migrant workers and would ensure that they be treated fairly like any other worker in Canada. [3]

Currently there is a review of the Temporary Workers’ Program. Can you tell us about this process and what are the demands of the migrant workers movement ?
The review is not an accurate description of what is going on now. A review is something that is methodical, systematic and taking into account all voices, but this not the case. The review is rushed. For example in appearing before the committee, I had seven minutes, shared with a colleague, who spoke on low skilled temporary workers. I had three minutes to speak on Seasonal Agricultural Workers. How could I speak of a fifty year program in just three minutes – this is not a review. Other presenters dealing with other sectors of economy more favourable to the business class were given more time. They don’t want to hear from workers impacted by the program. It’s like this process is a mere formality giving the appearance of fairness by using the word Review. Our demands are simple. We do not ask for extraordinary measures, we only ask for equality. This means that workers be granted permanent immigration status, access to social services and benefits, and among other things, stopping the unilateral repatriation of migrant workers. [4]

The Final Report is being released on June 15. What are the next steps that J4MW workers and the Migrant Workers alliance for Change will be taking after the report is released?
There are several activities that we have planned including forming alliances with our sister organizations and unions to demand status now. Continue the campaign “Landed Status Now”. Make people in the community aware of the inequities in the system. Most people, when they sit around dinner tables, are not aware of the unsafe conditions and the plight of agricultural workers who produce their food. We also are asking people to learn about our campaign and lobby their MP’s and MPP’s. Inform them of the plight of migrant workers under the program as it now exists. We also have a new movie out called Migrant Dreams(http://www.migrantdreams.ca/) which we are hoping to use as an educational tool mobilize people to lobby MP’s to change the laws and provide for greater equality. Come September or October we will have a caravan from Leamington or Windsor, to Ottawa, to press to change the laws so that they better reflect human rights and diversity. People can sign our petitition https://harvestingfreedom.org/petition/

Thank you Gabriel, I will take some of your thoughts to my MP when I meet with her in July.

[1] https://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2016/05/19/the-shame-of-our-disposable-workers.html
[2] http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/migrant-workers-killed-in-crash-were-breadwinners-1.1142487
[3] http://metcalffoundation.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Canadas-Choice-2.pdf
[4] http://www.migrantworkersalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Letter-from-Caregiver-Organization-to-Federal-and-Provincial-Govts.pdf