The first conference to bring together Guatemalan migrant workers, supporting organizations, workers advocates and government reps started this morning in Guatemala City. “There are many violations but very few of us raise our voices to speak about them”, said Jose Sicajau who used to work in a farm near Montreal and who now leads an organization representing Guatemalan migrants. Sicajau was never allowed back into Canada after speaking out about problems with his employer.
The aim of the conference is to allow workers to share experiences and organise. Guatemalan migrants traveling on official work visas have few opportunities to ever meet and talk about the challenges of working abroad.
While the conference brings together workers who have traveled to the US and Mexico, the majority present have spent time in Canada.
“We have to go to work there because we are so poor, because we are hungry”, said a worker who also added that the fear of being blacklisted and kicked out of the temporary workers program is so strong no one dares to speak out about unfair treatments and abuses.
While the Guatemalan government, the mexican government and the US have sent representatives, the Canadian embassy has so far refused to confirm it would send anyone to speak to workers.
Problems raised by the migrants included the loss of funds paid to “recruiters” who promise to place workers, some having even ended up loosing their homes, several workers spoke of being blacklisted, of abuses and of having their documents taken away from them.