‘Unfree’ B.C. farm labour deserves a better break

Mark Thompson, David Fairey and Arlene Tigar McLaren, Special to the Sun
Published: Thursday, September 25, 2008

The sudden firing and repatriation of 14 Mexican agricultural workers from an Abbotsford greenhouse earlier this month once again highlights the exploitive nature of Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP).

A growing proportion of British Columbia’s agriculture now depends on hiring migrant SAWP workers who are in practice “unfree.” Their unfree status is deliberately created by federal and provincial governments, both through the substandard regulation workers are subjected to and the virtually non-existent enforcement of what minimal protections exist. The result is that actual labour, health and safety conditions are left to the semi-feudal whims of many individual employers.

B.C.’s agreement with Mexico says migrant workers have the same rights as Canadian workers. Yet SAWP workers come to Canada assigned to a specific employer and lack the fundamental right of free workers to quit and find a better job. Any job transfer must be mediated by the Mexican Consulate, which is not particularly inclined to get invloved. SAWP workers are thus indentured to one employer. If they quit, they are forced to leave the country, and it is virtually impossible for them to return with another employer.
‘Unfree’ B.C. farm labour deserves a better break

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