Ontario’s Workers Demand Justice

“Why hasn’t Canada signed, ratified, and implemented the UN’s Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Their Families?” asks a plum. “I demand dignified treatment, respect, and guarantees of my rights as a worker”, says a pear. An apple notes that, “It is legal for farmers and employers to exploit migrant farm workers in Canada.” Meanwhile, grapes from the Niagara region join in with “Ice Wine: Pride and Luxury with a Canadian label, one of the most expensive but produced with the exploitation of migrant labour with the worst salary and without protection.” These fruits are not actually talking but are simply packaged in small paper bags with a card, with a question, or statement. Migrant workers in Ontario were asked, “If the fruit you were growing could speak, what do you wish they would say?” This traveling exhibit, Speaking Fruit, collected their answers and has been on its way to Ottawa to raise support and demand a response from our government.

Many Ontarians are unaware that most of the produce grown in Ontario comes from a small town near Windsor called Leamington. Leamington has a vast series of greenhouses growing food for sale to big and small grocery stores in this province. Calling itself the Tomato Capital of Canada, Leamington has the largest concentration of greenhouses on this continent. The farmer-owners of these greenhouses employ migrant worker to do most of the gruelling labour. Most of these workers are from Mexico and the Caribbean and they are brought in with promises of rich-country wages. However, they arrive to learn that they have to pay their employer for their housing (at several times the market rate) and they would be living with as many as 20 people in one house and would have to sleep in shifts. These workers are not given safety training or equipment and they are adversely affected when working with pesticides and chemical fertilizers. If migrant workers complain, they lose their jobs. Since their work visas are tied to their employment, they are also then immediately sent back to their home countries. In many cases, even their final pay-cheques are withheld by their employers or they are not paid the full amount. If one of them dies or is injured on the job – an all too common occurrence – they (or their corpse) are swiftly sent home to their family with no recompense or even apologies. Ontarians should be ashamed that this happens in our province.

What can be done to help? Currently, Bill 148 (Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act) is under consideration by the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, the mandate of which is to raise the minimum wage and improve workplace conditions. However, there are no provisions to improve conditions for migrant workers – or temp agency workers, for that matter. There cannot be two classes of workers: one treated fairly under the law and one for exploitation. Call or visit your MPP and let them know that Ontarians demand fair treatment for all workers.

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