Rally staged in Cobourg for migrant workers’ rights

Peterborough, ON, Canada / (CHEXTV)

This year is the 50th anniversary of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program – a system that has brought thousand of migrant workers to Canada. And as Greg Davis reports, there is a push to change some rules to better protect their rights.

This is Kishore Kadill’s third summer as a migrant worker at Moore Orchards in Cobourg, returning each harvest season from the island nation of Trindad and Tobago

Kishore: It is really a wonderful experience for me, I really enjoy it because I come here to work.

Like many area farms, orchards owner Pat Behan hires migrant workers and provides them full accommodations and minimum wage – one Canadian dollar equals five dollars in Trindad.

They are hired through Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program which is used to fill labour shortages. The program is marking its 50th anniversary this year.

Patrick Behan: It is kind of difficult to get local help sometimes especially when you start into the harvest of the apples that’s when everyone goes back to school so it’s hard to find help

Kishore is among thousands of other migrants who work in Ontario paying taxes but regardless of the years work can not become a permanent resident.

But lobby group Justice for Migrants wants that changed, its “Harvesting Freedom” campaign is marching from Windsor to Ottawa raising awareness.

They’re backed by support from the Northumberland Community Legal Centre (NCLC) which says workers fear being sent home if they speak up for their rights such as healthcare or employment insurance.

Theresa Williams, NCLC: A farmer could buy a plane ticket home and drive the worker to the airport then the worker is stuck. We’ve seen it with injured workers …workers who make complaints it’s often a retaliation tool.”

Justice for Workers stopped in Cobourg on Tuesday. They say it’s Ottawa’s responsibility to grant the workers status but the province must change its labour laws.

The Temporary Foreign Workers Program is currently under federal review facing dozens of recommendations including the removal of the “four-in, four out” rule which limits a temporary foreign worker from staying in Canada to four years and not returning for another four.

Peter Vance, NCLC: The status piece would resolve a huge number of the problems that cause these workers to be vulnerable to exploitation and getting kicked out of the country if they try to assert their rights.

Back at the farm, Kishore is happy to be working in what was another bountiful apple harvest.

Kishore: It’s nice when you work for people and they appreciate you. Sometimes Pat our boss comes out and picks for us. Anything we do he’s there for us giving us the extra motive to go.”

Greg Davis CHEX Newswatch Cobourg

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