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Canada’s Foreign Worker Program becoming too politicized

Canada’s Foreign Worker Program becoming too politicized

Worker advocacy groups disrupt migrant worker meeting.   

By Andrew Joseph, Farms.com; Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

No one enjoys being screamed at, but that is what happened to Canadian farmers by politicized foreign worker advocacy groups, according to an attendee.

Ken Forth, a broccoli farmer in the Hamilton, Ontario area and the Chair of the Labour Section of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers' Association said that in a Zoom meeting held this past August with federal government moderators with numerous migrant workers advocacy groups, Canadian agriculture groups, and officials from foreign countries who supply the workers, any time an ag group attempted to speak, they were shouted down by groups arguing about the slave-like conditions of Canada’s foreign worker program.

According to an article within the Farmers Forum website, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCWU) was particularly disruptive.

Said Forth: “They have been trying to seize power since 1986. They want to control the industry. They want union dues, and they want to control the food supply.”

But is Canada’s migrant farm worker policy broken?

Canada’s foreign worker policy has been in place since 1966 and has been updated in the ensuing years to reflect concerns and the times, according to Forth.

He acknowledged that although Canadian farm owners in the program have been quite good in their resolve to work with foreign workers on their farms, not every farmer follows the rules—and Forth is all about getting rid of those “bad apples”.

Despite what people think, farmers don’t simply hang a shingle declaring “Help Wanted” to attract foreign workers, it is an arduous process.

Foreign workers pay up to 50 percent of their flight costs from their home country to Canada, but lodgings at the farm where they will work are provided at no charge.

Just as for all workers in Canada, foreign workers are protected. They have the right to refuse to work until both the farmer and worker agree that danger is no longer in place, proper training has been given, and workplace safety is a given.

In Ontario, for example, workers receive OHIP medical insurance, employment insurance benefits, and guaranteed provincial minimum wage.

Should an accident occur, workers qualify for compensation, if necessary, through the Workplace Safety Insurance Board, which also offers 24-hour access to consular or liaison services if complications arise.

At the recent meeting, Forth said that foreign advocacy groups refused to allow farm association groups to speak fully, instead opting to loudly rail against perceived inadequacies in the Canadian migrant worker program—which serves no purpose other than to annoy.

The situation caused concern amongst some of the foreign country representatives attending the meeting, with Forth saying that Jamaica will now send a team to Canada to discuss personally with migrant workers about claims of “systematic slavery”.

Forth noted that the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers' Association has had run-ins with the UFCWU, having gone to court to testify in union attacks on labour laws for the past 35 years and have beaten them three times at the Supreme Court of Canada, as well as in many decisions in the lower courts.

According to Forth, most foreign workers are essentially happy with their work situation in Canada. He pointed to one worker on his farm who has been coming back for 32 years and with many others over 20 years.

Forth warned that the migrant worker issue has now morphed into the arena of politics and that when politicians are more concerned about votes, farmers will be affected.


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