How Canada’s labour-migration scheme undermines workers’ rights and dignity Initiated in 1966, the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) allows employers to hire farm workers from Mexico and Caribbean Commonwealth countries for up to eight months (Binford, 2013). The SAWP is driven by employers’ labour demands and based on bilateral agreements between Canadian and sending-country governments. Since 2002, employers have been permitted to hire workers through additional agricultural streams of the overarching Temporary Foreign Worker Program. These latter streams do not involve bilateral agreements and employ workers from any country for up to 24 months (Nakache & Dixon-Perera, 2015). Canada’s migrant farm worker arrangement has continued to expand rapidly; the number of migrant farm workers hired through the SAWP and related streams grew from approximately 35,000 in 2008 to approximately 53,000 in 2015 (ESDC, 2016). For a migrant farm worker to maintain their immigration status in Canada, they must remain employed by the person who hired them (Binford, 2013). If they encounter poor employment conditions, switching farms is often tricky. Workers also depend on employers to give them a positive evaluation and nominate them to return the following year. Migrant workers can labour each season for decades in Canada without a formal way of gaining permanent residency and settling in Canada with their families. The preferential recruiting and hiring of
CFS/RCÉA Weiler Vol. 5 No. 3, pp. 279–284 September 2018 281 men has resulted in stark gender inequity among migrant farm workers (Preibisch & Encalada, 2013). While migrant workers’ motivation for working in Canada is often to provide a better life for their loved ones, prolonged separation can tear their families apart (Díaz Mendiburo, Lyn, McLaughlin, Vasilevska, & Wells, 2017).Earning a higher wage in Canadian currency consistently comes at a high cost to migrant farm workers. Some of the systemic problems workers repeatedly report include substandard housing and transportation, employer expectations of extreme productivity, and a lack of control over workplace hours (Binford, 2013; Reid-Musson, 2017). Barriers to health care loom especially large. For example, in 2013 Jamaican SAWP worker Robert Sulph was working on an Ontario tobacco farm when a blade flew off a metal cutter, slicing open his neck and leaving him with a life-threatening injury (Mojtehedzadeh, 2016). Although Sulph was supposedly entitled to full compensation under provincial law, he had to pay for his medical expenses up front and was cut off of workers’ compensation after just twelve weeks. Migrant workers’ deportability undermines their ability to exercise the rights to which they are theoretically entitled, and it makes it dangerous for them to speak up.