World Day Against Trafficking in Persons

July 30 is the International Day of Human Trafficking and an opportunity to reflect on this human rights crisis. For this date, Varka Kalaydzhieva has provided one migrant worker’s experience in Ontario.

Alberto (not his real name) came to Canada from Mexico to work as a temporary foreign worker at a vegetable farm in Southern Ontario. He and his colleagues started working almost immediately upon arrival.

There was no health and safety training offered, although workers’ duties included handling highly poisonous chemicals and pesticides and operating heavy machinery and tools. It was made clear by supervisors that workers are expected to work all day with a 30-minute break for lunch and without being paid overtime.

Labour Exploitation

Alberto is one of the many migrants that are subjected to labour exploitation while working in Canada. We are at the peak of the summer season. 

Farmers markets are in full display and Ontarians are enjoying fresh and local produce which is offered in every major supermarket and farmers market across the province. We often ask ourselves if those fresh and local veggies and fruits are sprayed with harsh pesticides and other chemicals. 

Rarely though do we ask ourselves who has picked this produce? Were the labourers exploited or mistreated?

Need to Know

Ontarians need to know more about their food and the exploitive labour behind it. The experiential exercise developed by the Collaborative Network to End Exploitation tells the story of the migrant workers’ journey in Canada. 

This fall, we will be reaching out to schools, parishes, and social service organizations to share this experience and demand action from our governments. 

Our determination to demand rights for migrant workers will change the story of our relationship with the food and gratitude we have to Mother Earth for sustaining our lives.

Working Conditions

Many workers are also dependent on their employers for housing. Often, they are placed in crowded trailers on site, sleeping on bunk beds with limited access to washroom and kitchen facilities. 

While some protections exist, often times the solution is only accessible after a complaint is filed by the migrant worker. This approach is ineffective given the fear of reprisal and loss of employment. 

Thus, workers are caught in a dire predicament: report and risk being sent home or continue enduring an exploitive situation hoping to save enough to pay back loans and fees.

Working at Their Own Cost

More than 25,000 migrant farm workers arrive in Ontario each year to harvest the crops and help our farmers deliver the produce to our dinner table. The journey of a migrant worker from their home country to Canada is uncertain. The majority of them come to Canada heavily in debt, having to borrow money to pay unscrupulous recruiters in addition to travel and program expenses.

It is not uncommon for a worker to have paid an average of $2,000 in recruiting fees in addition to other expenses before arrival. (Information from the Who, Where and How Much report.)

By the time workers receive their first paycheck, deductions for rent, transportation and other discretionary expenses by the employer significantly reduce their earnings and ability to pay back loans.

Even if workers receive the promised minimum wage, many are cheated with the number of hours they have completed or the weight of the produce they have picked. Some of these workers have to operate dangerous equipment or use chemicals without proper safety training or gear. Many suffer workplace injuries and are swiftly sent home without proper treatment or compensation. Those who do stay are forced to continue working or face reduced shifts and wages.

These issues should be highlighted during the upcoming federal election this October.