Protection for temporary foreign workers
Strawberries are one of the crops that farm workers are recruited to help harvest (Photo: Pixabay)

Dear Mr Brown,

I read an article recently in the Jamaica Observer about Jamaican farm workers in Canada who claim they experience deplorable working conditions and called on Karl Samuda to assist them. They have problems with rats, crowding issues, no privacy, dangerous conditions, and abuse from employers in slavery-like conditions who are threatening to send them home if they do not comply. Isn't Canada supposed to protect foreign workers?

– CJS

Dear CJS:

Address labour shortages

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 shortages. The migrant workers are doing the work that Canadians will not do. However, Canada's Temporary Foreign Worker Programme 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, for example. The federal government provides a telephone tip line and a webpage where cases of potential fraud or abuse can be anonymously reported. However, the programme is poorly supervised, leaving workers vulnerable to exploitation by some employers.

Workers may be denied the Canadian labour benefits they are entitled to by some employers, and are at risk of deportation if they complain about employment conditions. As such, many workers keep silent rather than risk being sent back to the poverty of their homelands. Also, many employers are unresponsive because there is no shortage of potential workers for the farm work programme from source countries to replace workers who complain.

Consulates

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

Farm workers are entitled to rights and protection. The solution to these issues is very complex. I believe that the best way to approach breaches of worker rights is for representatives from the governments of all applicable countries to acknowledge and address these matters collectively so that individual workers, companies or countries are singled out. As I have stated previously, I believe the programme is functional, but these matters need to be addressed and victims need to be compensated.

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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