Join the Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks on Sunday, September 17th to add your voice to justice for all migrant workers in Canada.
- Vancouver: 4:00 pm at Canada Border Services Agency, 300 West Georgia Street
- Victoria: 11 am at BC Legislature, 501 Belleville Street
The Kelowna wildfires continue to rage, destroying homes, farms, displacing thousands of people. Among the displaced are hundreds of migrant and seasonal farm workers, many from Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean who work in the Okanagan fruit orchards. Less reported are the impacts of these evacuations on farm workers with limited resources and work protections. 600 farm workers in the Kelowna area were evacuated to other farms with the federal government stepping in to cover some lost wages, food and other evacuation costs where farms have been unwilling or unable to do this themselves.
Regardless of federal evacuation support, migrant farm workers remain without adequate protections and rights, now made worse by the accelerating climate emergency. Many workers will continue to labour in poor air quality and simply told to wear N-95 masks. While federal regulations require living accommodations for farm workers to be no hotter than 28 degrees, with the increasing heat that we are now experiencing, there is still little to no monitoring of these heat conditions that would require remedies such as air conditioning. This extreme heat, where workers cannot even sleep properly, leads to significant health concerns.
Poor working conditions are exacerbated by extremely low wages, particularly among undocumented workers and those working under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) Agriculture Stream who are not protected by government contracts. A recent investigative trip to Kelowna by Byron Cruz, a member of the Migrant Rights Network found the situation among these farm workers to be worsening. “We met some undocumented workers earning as little as $4 per hour (and of course zero rights). Those working under the Agriculture Stream Program are without formal government contracts and come to Canada through private recruiters with farm employers solely responsible for work agreements. There are less protections which leads to tremendous difficulty for these workers. As farm work becomes increasingly precarious due to climate change or the farmer does not plan well, if fruit is not ready to pick for example or if a worker complains, they can very easily be sent home without a say, and with less chance of ever returning”.
The Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks hold deep gratitude for the work of Byron Cruz, himself a Guatemalan refugee who came to Canada in 1991 and who has worked tirelessly for decades to raise awareness on the issues of migrant worker injusticeHis work here started with the Latin American Community Centre in the Downtown Eastside where they started the very first needle pick-up program. Byron later went on to help create the BC Multicultural Health Services Bridge clinic in partnership with Mt. Saint Joseph Hospital serving newcomer and refugee communities. He also helped set up the Umbrella Mobile Clinic, still running under Umbrella Multicultural Health Services Cooperative which provides mobile health care to farm workers in the New Westminster, Abbotsford and Langley areas.
More recently during COVID, Byron and in his work with the Sanctuary Health Collective, partnered with WATARI Counselling and Support Services along with Khalsa Aid as the main organizations providing emergency food for those with precarious immigration status and little access to food. These groups continue to support around 100 families in Vancouver as well as workers on 20 isolated farms in the Lower Mainland who lack proper transportation to food shopping.
Our food sector is emblematic of a racialized labour market which largely ignores a critical aspect of food justice, including the low wage sector and oppressive working conditions of migrant workers largely of color who grow and produce the food, take care of the children and the elderly, and build and clean the homes. A lack of rights and union protections has made it much harder for these workers to speak up and organize politically on such issues without fear of being fired, unenrolled from services, evicted and even detained and deported. Moreover, the Temporary Migrant Workers Program, including the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program are no less than a modern day colonial system of systemic indentured servitude.
“Racism is directly implicated when there is systemic and ongoing treatment of groups of people as inferior and thus not worthy of rights, entitlements and privileges afforded to others deemed worthy” – Migrant Rights Network. In seeking justice for all, migrants are working to build alliances in solidarity with indigenous communities in struggle as they fight against racism, colonization, and global systems of apartheid and where everyone is free of oppression.
The Migrant Rights Network is working to build a migrant-led movement to win full and permanent immigration status for all migrants including undocumented people, many of whom are on temporary work or student permits. They are calling for a nationwide Regularize Everyone action on Sept.17 calling on the federal government to guarantee permanent residence status for all.
There are an estimated 500,000 undocumented people in Canada. According to Migrant Rights Network, “Without permanent resident status, undocumented people are unable to assert rights at work or access basic healthcare. They face discrimination and exploitation because of the well-founded fear of deportation. Non-status people are part of communities. They are neighbours, classmates, parents, spouses, children, coworkers, and caretakers. Because of lack of permanent resident status, undocumented people experience insecure housing, abuse at work, poverty, and fear. The uncertainty about the future, constant stress of making ends meet and risks of detention and deportation negatively impacts our health”.
Please join the Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks on September 17th and add your voice to justice for all migrant workers in Canada.
Sunday, September 17, 2023, 4:00 PM Canada Border Services Agency 300 West Georgia Street
Blog post by Ian Marcuse, Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks Coordinator