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Report gives Manitoba’s invisible migrant farm workers a voice

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Migrant Workers Solidarity - Migrant Voices PosterThey come to Manitoba each summer under Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program to work on farms and nurseries.  And they’re invisible.

Now a new report by the Migrant Worker Solidarity Network and The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Manitoba gives these migrant farm workers a voice.

About the report:

The Migrant Worker’s Solidarity Network (MWSN), a group that interacts with and advocates for these workers, undertook a research project which informed the report Migrant Voices: Stories of Agricultural Migrant Workers in Manitoba. This report combines the voices of the men with whom the MWSN interacts, with background information about the SAWP and a review of literature from across Canada concerning migrant workers. Migrant Voices explains how globalization and free trade agreements end up producing a two-tiered labour force in Canada and how these migrant workers fare in that system. It also gives us a comprehensive overview of the Mexican/Canadian agreement and federal and provincial regulatory frameworks that underpin the SAWP.

More from this press release, issued May 15, 2013:

A ground-breaking report will be released on the steps of the Manitoba legislature today at noon.

The report, by the Migrant Worker Solidarity Network and The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Manitoba, gives a voice to Manitoba’s migrant farm workers.  Approximately 400 migrant labourers, mostly Mexican men, come to Manitoba each summer under Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program, to work on farms and nurseries.  The workers are invisible to most Manitobans.

Like other migrant workers, they work long hours for low pay and rarely leave the farms where they work.  Most do not speak English. All leave spouses and families back in Mexico.  Some have been coming to Manitoba every summer for 25 years, yet they are unable to immigrate or bring their families with them.

“In Canada, I am lonely,” says one worker under the pseudonym Manuel. “There is a lot of loneliness here… I don’t like to go from work to being enclosed in my house. I don’t go out because it’s late when I leave work and I am really tired and I don’t have energy but to hole myself up and sleep. The next day is the same.”

Chief researcher, Jodi Read, said that she was impressed and humbled by the generosity and kindness of the men.  “These are hard-working men committed to their families and communities back in Mexico.  Their work is essential to the Manitoba economy, yet to most Manitobans they are nameless and faceless.  The rights of these workers should be a priority for the Manitoba government.”

While the workers pay Canadian taxes, they are ineligible for programs that most workers take for granted.  They must purchase their own private health insurance and are not eligible for EI or parental leave.  The authors of the report believe that the workers should have access to public health care. They also noted that English classes would improve their situation.

According to MWSN co-chair Jennifer deGroot, “The report gives a voice to workers that most Manitobans have never met.  Their hard work provides much of the local produce grown and consumed in Manitoba.  We believe that Manitobans will want to know about the experience of these workers and will support our goal to protect their health and wellbeing while they are in our province every year.”

The MWSN spent one year interviewing migrant workers, a precarious task, given that workers who are seen to be speaking out risk being repatriated to Mexico or not invited back in future years.

Latin American immigrants will read some of the workers’ words and mime their work.

For more information about the report please contact researcher Jodi Read at 204-430-0392 or Lynne Fernandez at 204-927-3207.  Reporters are respectfully urged not to contact agricultural workers for interviews, as speaking to members of the media could put those workers’ jobs at risk. Employers can, at any time, order their return to Mexico and/or withhold offers of employment the following year.

Photo: Migrant Workers Solidarity Network

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