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Report recommends Canada’s migrant farm workers form or join union

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union published a report calling for urgent reforms
THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/The Winchester Star, Scott Mason

A recently published report from the union representing Canadian agricultural workers asks that migrant workers be allowed to become union members.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union published its Status of Migrant Agricultural Workers in Canada 2023: Special Health & Safety Report on Jan. 29.

The report ends with 12 recommendations, leading off with allowing migrant agricultural workers to either form or join a union, and establish collective bargaining agreements for them.

The UFCW’s report notes all agricultural workers, not just migrant workers, already face many challenges and vulnerabilities due to underreporting of injuries, a lack of oversight and the imbalance of power with their employers.

“They face financial burdens, such as repaying loans and covering various costs related to coming to Canada to work,” reads the report. “Once in Canada, they often have to pay for PPE. Unlawful contracting methods and employer control over work permits contribute to a lack of agency for these workers.”

The report notes that both the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Programs began as temporary measures but have become integral parts of the agricultural industry.

The UFCW also pointed out that the UN’s Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery raised concerns about the programs in September of 2023.

In addition to allowing unionization and collective bargaining agreements, the UFCW report other recommendations include strengthening agricultural sector regulations and programs for migrant workers in areas including worker housing, pesticide exposure, language gaps, and improving access to health care.

The report also lists several urgent federal actions, including ending employer-specific work permits and replacing them with open or occupation-specific ones to allow for mobility within the agricultural industry.

“Open work permits and more pathways to permanent residency are vital reforms,” reads the report. “While knowledge and training are essential, they alone cannot solve the issues faced by migrant agricultural workers.”

The UFCW report is not the only recent effort to bring change to the industry. A class action lawsuit was proposed on behalf of migrant farm workers earlier in January, alleging that the TFWP violated Charter rights by forcing the workers to work for a single employer and pay into government benefits that almost none of them can actually claim.

The full Status of Migrant Agricultural Workers in Canada 2023 report can be viewed online on the UFCW website.

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Brennan Phillips

About the Author: Brennan Phillips

Brennan was raised in the Okanagan and is thankful every day that he gets to live and work in one of the most beautiful places in Canada.
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