Thursday, August 25, 2022

Migrant worker program draws fire

The migrant worker program is drawing new fire from critics, including a report on CBC Radio.

The death of Garvin Yapp, 57, of Jamaica, who was injured Aug. 14 while operating farm equipment at the VanBerlo farm in Norfolk County, has been a spark for renewed criticisms.

He worked on the VanBerlo farm for 35 seasons and hosted the family to a vacation at his home in Jamaica.

Jamaican migrant farm workers in Niagara Region wrote an open letter to Jamaica's Ministry of Labour requesting more support in the face of what they call "systematic slavery," days before Yapp died.

Jamaican Labour Minister Karl Samuda said he will be visiting and touring farms in Canada employing Jamaican workers under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program.

The VanBerlo lawyer issued a statement expressing condolences for their friend’s family and said they have cooperated fully with an investigation by the Ontario Ministry of Labour.

But on the CBC, Syed Hussan , executive director of Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, said federal immigration policy is the root cause of the crisis with migrant workers.

He said the federal agriculture department is wasting millions of dollars in setting up a new bureaucracy for temporary foreign workers. Rather than starting a new program, he said the federal government ought to put its efforts towards improving existing programs.

He also criticized the new offer to create a pathway to Canadian citizenship. Only about 300 have filed applications over the two years since it was announced because it costs thousands of dollars and the process is daunting, he said.

The alliance wants imported workers to be offered permanent residence status, the first step towards Canadian citizenship.

"As it currently stands, the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) is systematic slavery," the Jamaican workers wrote in their open letter.

The letter the Jamaican workers wrote was sent to the Jamaican Observer, where excerpts of it were published on Monday. The workers said they sent the letter to Samuda on Aug. 11.

"Jamaicans have been coming for generations, our fellow Caribbean and Mexican coworkers have too, and there have been no significant changes since the program started," the workers said.

Workers wrote they were scared of sharing their grievances with Samuda directly for fear of being kicked out of the SAWP. They also said that workers from Mexico and the Philippines share the same grievances.

Workers described housing conditions as so poor that rats eat their food. They live in crowded rooms with zero privacy with cameras, and lack dryers to dry their clothes after it rains, they wrote.

"It feels like we are in prison," the letter reads.

On working conditions, workers wrote they're "treated like mules" and punished for not being quick enough. They said they're exposed to dangerous pesticides without adequate protection, and their bosses are verbally abusive.

"They physically intimidate us, destroy our personal property, and threaten to send us home," the letter reads.

It looks like just another case of the Trudeau government making grandiose promises with little or no followup.