Coming in the wake of last fall’s remarks by the UN Special Rapporteur that Canada’s temporary foreign worker programs are “a breeding ground for contemporary forms of slavery,” the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW Canada) has issued a new report calling for urgent reforms to protect migrant workers’ health, safety and rights.
The report, “The Status of Migrant Agricultural Workers in Canada 2023,” highlights the dangers that migrant agricultural workers face while in Canada. These dangers include poor and inadequate living conditions, exposure to chemicals and other hazardous substances, and heat stress from working conditions.
UFCW points out that migrant agricultural workers “face unique health and safety challenges due to their living and working conditions, lack of access to healthcare, and language barriers,” and notes that the present system leaves migrant workers vulnerable to ongoing abuse and exploitation.
The union is calling for urgent reforms to protect their health, safety and rights, insisting that all levels of government – federal, provincial and municipal – need to take action. UFCW’s proposed reforms include improved housing conditions, reduced pesticide exposure, and unionization with full labour rights including collective bargaining.
Migrant agricultural workers face limits on their labour rights throughout the country. Farm workers in Alberta are not allowed to form a union at all, and in Quebec and Ontario they do not have the right to bargain collectively even if unionized.
Furthermore, Canada’s migrant worker system is based on employer-specific work permits, which open workers to widespread abuse.
The UFCW report says that agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries in developed countries, citing International Labour Organization reports that at least 170,000 agricultural workers worldwide are killed each year, with millions more suffering severe injuries or poisoning.
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