Did it take a horrific crash outside Waterloo, Ontario on Monday to bring human rights concerns about migrant workers in Canada into focus?
11 people were killed in the terrible accident, where a 15-passenger van carrying migrant workers collided with a truck at an intersection. The driver of the truck was killed, as was the driver of the van and 9 of the passengers – all migrant workers employed by Brian’s Poultry Services in Mildmay, Ontario. These workers all came to Canada under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program, which gives workers permission to enter the country to work when farmers and other agricultural businesses cannot find Canadians to hire for the tedious and often dangerous work. Most of the workers were breadwinners for their families at home in Jamaica, Mexico, Barbados and several other countries. Some of the workers who died hadn’t even been in Canada long enough to collect their first paycheck. Yesterday, the fault of the accident was laid solely on the driver of the van — a migrant worker himself, who did not carry an appropriate license to drive the multi-passenger vehicle.
24,000 migrant workers come to Canada every year, mostly to fill vacancies in the agricultural labor workforce during seasonal periods. And while they theoretically are protected by the same labor laws as protect all other Canadians, the reality is that they are largely at the mercy of the farm owners, who could simply choose to send the laborer back to their native country if they complain about treatment. In a policy paper from the Justice For Migrant Workers organization, workers made a host of complaints about conditions they encounter, including working 12-15 hours without overtime or holiday pay, being denied necessary breaks, being ordered to use dangerous chemicals/pesticides with no safety equipment/protection or training, being crammed into substandard housing with leaking sewage and inadequate washrooms, and exclusion from basic human rights legislation such as Health and Safety Legislation and most aspects of the Employment Standards Act.
This accident, where a person unqualified to drive a 15-passenger van in the first place — let alone during a Canadian winter — was in charge of their lives, highlights the fact that we are allowing people to take jobs in Canada under a set of rules — rules that are largely unenforced, leaving these people unprotected.
24,000 migrant workers in Canada. And they’re processing the food that goes on your plate. Isn’t it in your own best interest to ensure the people who process your food are treated fairly and safely?
Photo Credit: Natalie Maynor on Flickr.