Farm workers protected by same rights as Canadians

Jamaica To Canada

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

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Dear Mr Brown,

I have heard many horror stories about the farm work programme and the lack of rights for workers. Does Canada protect the rights of farm workers the same way it does for citizens?

— FT

Dear FT:

Canada's seasonal agriculture worker programme was established to recruit migrants from Mexico and Caribbean nations to work for up to eight months a year to address chronic labour shortage.

While Canada has decreased the overall number of temporary foreign workers from various sectors, in general, since 2014, the farm worker programme in particular is growing, with visas approved for more than 34,000 labourers in 2016, up from about 25,000 in 2011. Canada's Temporary Foreign Worker Program has come under scrutiny in recent years after reports of alleged abuses and lack of oversight surfaced.

Rights and protection

Officially, foreign temporary workers are protected by the same rights and protections as Canadians. There are workplace safety and insurance boards for Canadian provinces, which are responsible for providing workers' compensation for injuries. However, critics say the programme is poorly supervised, leaving workers vulnerable to exploitation by some employers.

Conversely, the federal government provides a telephone tip line and a web page, where cases of potential fraud or abuse can be anonymously reported.

Some employers might deny workers the Canadian labour benefits to which they are entitled, and they are at risk of deportation if they complain about employment conditions. For example, some workers claim to be exposed to toxic pesticides, unsafe working conditions, poor housing conditions, or not being compensated for overtime.

Many workers keep silent rather than risk being sent back to the poverty of their homelands. Also, many employers are unresponsive because there is absolutely no shortage of potential workers for the farm work programme from source countries. However, since 2014, thousands have submitted tips which led to hundreds of inspections by or referrals to authorities.

Irrespective of this, there have been reports of scant federal oversight of the temporary foreign worker programme. Critics point out that the federal government's oversight authority is limited because provinces and territories are responsible for enforcing health, labour and workplace safety standards for the workers, and thus protections are uneven.

Consulates

Consulates of the workers' home countries are supposed to assist labourers, if they need assistance. However, to compound the issues, it has been reported that officials often side against workers in disputes to prevent employers from hiring workers from other countries; that is, to keep Canadian employers happy so they will continue to recruit workers from their particular country.

In response to your question, as stated, farm workers are entitled to rights and protection. No system is perfect. There will be accidents at work. There will be some bad actors. Overall, although there needs to be improvement in how workers are compensated, the work programme is functional.

From my perspective, I have heard and read about horror stories. However, the substance of the complaints focuses on compensation, rather than scrapping the programme or not recommending that anyone venture to enter the farm work programme. Personally, I would put more resources into complaints-based inspections and enforcement of violations.

Please visit jamaica2canada.com for additional information on Canadian Permanent Residence programmes, including Express Entry, the Study and Work programme, visitor's visas or appeals, etc.

Antonn Brown, BA, (Hons), LLB, MSc, RCIC, is an immigration counsel and an accredited Canadian education agent of JAMAICA2CANADA.COM-a Canadian immigration & education firm in Kingston. Send questions/comments to jamaica2canada@gmail.com

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