Migrant Hands Hard At Work On Canadian Farms History Essay
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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016
Every year thousands of migrant workers come into Canada to work on farms as labourers, a job whose long hours, low wages and repetitive work no longer appeals to most Canadians. The program, known as the Canadian Seasonal Agriculture Workers Program (CSAWP) started in 1966. It was first developed only in collaboration with Jamaica to fix the problem of labour shortages on Canadian farms, but expanded to include the countries of Mexico, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and Eastern Caribbean States. The workers stay in Canada anywhere from 6 weeks up to 8 months, depending on their contract. There is approximately about 18 000 labourers coming into Canada each year and about 90% are directed to Ontario. These migrant workers plant, pick, pack and inspect the food that we buy and eat not only during the eight months of the year that they are here in Canada, but the other four months where we get most of our exported fruits and vegetables. My brother was also involved with working with migrant labourers when he worked at a green house one summer in Bradford, Ontario. I think this a perfect opportunity to learn and look at the development that is occurring in Canada, instead of always looking at overseas development. It is important to explore and learn about the development and issues that is occurring in one’s own backyard, before exploring and criticizing what is happening in someone else’s. By beginning with an exploration of our own development issues in the country we live we can better understand the issues the world is facing, resulting in more effective solutions to the problem.
This topic relates back to global development, because it allows for the countries involved to help one another, which specifically relates to globalization. This relates to the globalization aspect of development because globalization is the process of when a county’s economy, society and culture become integrated with another by networking. This is what Canada is doing with the participating countries of CSAWP, the countries work and communicate with one another and form a network of communication, transportation and trade. Although the program is beneficial to both Canada and participating countries, the program actually proposes many problems with the individuals involved. While the program does provide offshore labourers to make more money here in Canada, than their home countries they often must put up with discrimination that make working here in Canada intolerable. The CSWAP program although advantageous to Canadian farmers has minimal benefits to migrant workers and it is now seen as a form of racism and slave labour towards offshore labourers in the way the way the labourers are mistreated.
Offshore workers are critical for the rural economy in Ontario, where importing cheap labour has become a global practice (Goodfellow:2005). The labour provided by migrant workers is accountable for the wealth gained by the horticultural industry. Ontario farm corporations are most likely to hire migrant workers because they are more vulnerable than Canadian workers, and can be treated in ways that is not permitted by Canadian labour standards (Bauder:2008). The workers are reliable and obedient and put up with the treatment as most of them are afraid of being kicked out of the program and being deported back to their home countries (Basok:200). This further proves the advantageous factors that make migrant workers more appealing for employers.
Although the hiring process for migrant workers is extensive, employers are willing to go through it because of the major labour shortages they are experiencing. The labourers that Canadian farmers are able to receive are obedient and must comply to all rules by the employer (Bauder: 2005). Discrimination is experienced at the beginning by the migrant workers starting off at the hiring stage of the program. The CSWAP program is very selective in the workers they choose to participate in the program. The program selects workers on the criteria that imply need, meaning they only choose citizens who are living in poverty, married and have many children and lacking a good education (Bauder:2008). Individuals who are single are rarely chosen as the programs does not want individuals to become permanent residents and having a family back home ensures that they will go back to their country of origin (Basok:2000). The employers are responsible for providing accommodations for their labourers, therefore women are rarely chosen as they do not want to go through the hassle of providing separate living quarters for them. This process of selections already discriminates against many of the people who may be interested in applying.
This process of hiring discourages immigration of individuals from the participating countries to Canada. Immigrating permanently to Canada is not offered by the program no matter how many years the individual works in Canada. The average amount of years a migrant workers returns is 6.3 years (Basok:2000). Not having the chance to migrate to Canada is a great disadvantage for migrant workers.
The hiring process itself is very long and costly for a migrant worker. Brem (2006:5) outlines the issues they face during the very beginning of the process when applying for a position to work in Canada. The process for the migrant workers is very expensive because most of the labourers come from different areas of Mexico and to apply for a position they must constantly travel to Mexico City to finish applying. Therefore most of the people who end up applying lives near the city. They must travel to Mexico City to undergo interviews, medical exams and documentation procedures (Brem:2006). Therefore they end up spending a lot of money, that they do not have in hopes of acquiring a position. The Mexican government subsidizes some of these cost, however the workers themselves must pay for most of the charges, therefore most workers are already in debt once they have arrived in Canada (Brem:2006). This shows how little the migrant workers benefit at the beginning of the program.
Once in Canada these migrant workers are put into farms and their experience here varies on the employer they are placed with. If placed with a bad employer, it is hard for the migrant workers to voice their complaints. This can be seen in the documentary El Contrato. The director Min Sook Lee, exposes in the film how it is difficult for them to voice their opinion because most of the time there is no one there to listen. Most do not want to express their opinion because of the fear of being sent back to Mexico. The film also provides an inside look on the various day to day problems that the migrant workers face. The discrimination they may face with their employer but also in the town they are residing in while they work in Canada is degrading and humiliating. In the film it can be seen that the work is socially isolating and physically demanding and without sufficient pay.
The exploitive and unfair work conditions become acceptable through the cultural representations that recognize migrant workers as outsiders to the community and exposes them as a cultural threat (Bauder: 2005). It is not an easy feat for migrant workers to integrate themselves to the community, as the citizens of the community are not always welcoming. A stigma and image of migrant workers is projected in the community as not belonging. They are given a cultural image of riding bicycles as a form of transportation because they can not afford cars, which separates them from the rest of the community (Bauder:2005). A Mexican invasion is what is seen by the locals and is now part of their rural community and distinguishes migrant workers as different. Their presence is acknowledged however they are not perceived as belonging despite the fact that these workers return year after year (Bauder:2005). This creates an “us and them” perspective between the locals and workers, which further makes the migrants feel unwanted and discriminated against.
According to Barndt (2002:161), the relationship that the migrant labourers develop with their employers is very important because they form a paternalistic relationship. A paternalistic relationship means that the migrant worker must depend and rely on their employer for transportation and housing. If a good bond is not formed between the employer and the workers, their stay in Canada could be quite unbearable. With this kind of relationship it is hard for the workers to gain any kind of independence and it can encourage racist and sexist behaviours from the employer. They are not treated with respect and according to Irena (2002:160) one of the women case studies in the book, they feel as if their are just being : “rented by the Mexican government to the Canadian government”. In the documentary El Contrato, Lee the director highlights that, it is clear that the migrants realize that they are only wanted as “labourers and not citizens”. It is evident that no matter how long they have been going back to the Canada to work in the fields, their wages will always remain the same with no chance of a raise.
Unfree labour is a key theme that is explored in Tanya Basok’s book Tortilla and Tomatoes. According to Basok(2003:4): “unfree labour are workers who have the inability to circulate in the labour market and restraint through political and legal compulsion and the workers in ability to refuse the employers demands.” So although the workers are “legally free” they are living under the continuous threat of expulsion and are unable to refuse the demands of their employer (Bauder:2005). This is what migrant workers face once they arrive in Canada they are unable to explore the job market, meaning they can not usually switch employers or are even given the chance to be able to pick what farm and or location they work at. Their choices are very limited and usually are picked for them. Many migrant workers usually do not know their rights while they stay here in Canada. Migrant workers are allowed to quit whenever they want however, but because of the economic status of the country they are from they are willing to make the sacrifice to come to Canada and work in sometimes unfair conditions.
Migrant workers are a structural necessity to the agricultural industry in Canada because they ensure growth and profits that are made by the Canadian farmers (Bauder:2005). Migrant labourers are perfect for this kind of job because they can be made to work in accordance with the employer’s convenience, in the fear of being deported, which is unlike the behaviour of permanent Canadian citizens (Basok:2003).
Migrant workers must put up with unfair working conditions and pay. They get significantly lower wages than those of Canadians that have similar jobs (Bauder:2005). They get payment deductions of CPP, EI and taxes from every paycheque as well as deductions for their flight home, leaving them with little savings. (Goodfellow: 2005). Also their right to overtime pay and vacation pay is usually ignored by their employers. Thus their first year earnings is used and is just enough to maintain their households and to pay off the debt they built just to become part of the program. It is not until their second year coming to Canada that they can use their savings to start investing for a better life in the future (Basok:2000).
According to Barndt (2002:159) author of the book Tangled Routes the program allows the people of developing countries such as Mexico to be able to earn Canadian wages and allows for the remittances of wages earned by the foreign workers to generate foreign currency for their country’s economic development. In Mexico the workers are paid by the day, working in Canada therefore provides up to sevens times the amount of pay they can receive in Mexico because they are paid hourly. They are able to earn higher wages in Canada because of they pay structure of being paid by the hour instead of by the day (Barndt:2002) By being able to earn Canadian wages it allows the migrant labourers to increase their standard of living once they are back in their home country.
As stated in the website Justicia for Migrant workers the safety and health conditions in the farms are extremely dangerous. It greatly effects their health because they are not allowed any breaks and are made to work the full 8 months they are here with no vacation time or overtime pay. The hard work leads to depression and stress especially since the job is very rigorous. They are expected to do unsafe farm work such as the spraying of pesticides without the use of proper protection and upon arriving they do not get any proper equipment training. This in the past has led to the death of workers. The housing the migrants usually stay at is often crowded where the workers are packed into the house provided by the employer. Some of the accommodation provided by employers are very military style according to Ferguson(2004:1), in the Hard time in Canadian Fields article in Maclean’s Magazine. She describes the lodging as 30 bunks beds arranged in dormitory style, where the men will drape sheets on the lower bunks in an attempt to get some privacy. Ferguson (2004:1) mentions this is Canada this isn’t the third world the accommodations that we provide our migrant workers should be more comfortable.
The program does not fully protect and ensure the well being and treatment of the labourers involved, which allows the employers to take advantage and exploit the migrant labourers, violating their human rights. Migrant labourers unable to unionize makes it difficult for them to voice their opinion, without fear of being sent back to their home country, this is what sets them apart from Canadian workers. Their ability to remain in the program heavily relies on the satisfaction of the employer on the performance of the worker. If the employer is not satisfied by the worker’s performance this can ruin their chances of returning to Canada for the opportunity to work (Bauder:2005).
The fact that the program only choose workers who have low level education and are from the rural part of Mexico, reduces the chances of these migrants to invest their money more productively. Not knowing how to invest their money in Mexico in order to have better lives makes it difficult for migrants to leave the program. Because of the economic circumstances in Mexico, migrant workers are very hesitant in investing in their own business. (Basok:2000). Therefore most earnings go into their children’s education and to keep up with their household maintenance. Thus this is why migrants continue to stay in the program year after year to work in Canada.
Although migrant workers have been coming to Canada for many years to work on our farms and help provide prosperity in our agricultural community, they are still being mistreated and are not offered any form of advancement to permanently live in Canada. The program offers many benefits to Canadian farmers such as obedient workers, cheap labour and more profit. They are also capable of mistreating their employees with minimal fear of getting into any sort of trouble. On the other hand there are very minimal benefits to migrant workers, they must put up with unfair wages and working conditions. They must come back every year because of the economic situation of their home country, coming to Canada is their only option on making decent money. They come back knowing that they do not have a chance to permanently gain citizenship in the country no matter how many years they come back to work. While this program runs every year there have been minimal outcry as migrant workers do not have a voice and can not risk the chance of not being able to participate in the program. Within my paper it is proved that migrant workers are discriminated against throughout the whole process of the program starting with the selection process all the way to the living conditions of the migrant workers in Canada. The hard work and discrimination they face while they are here in Canada, in the end leave them with hardly any benefits once they go back home. Canada has had a history of labour exploitation going all the back to the Chinese in BC in the early 1900’s. This is a new form of racism and labour exploitation of this generation.
From my findings it can be seen that migrant workers come back to Canada for multiple years and are still unable to make the best living circumstances in their home countries. This means coming to Canada has become an ongoing cycle for them, and it is still the only way for them to be able to support their families. A way to be able to stop this problem would be to offer migrant labourers some education while they reside in Canada. This will help migrant labourers to be to able to learn how to invest their money better in their home countries to provide a higher standard of living for their families. It would also be very beneficial, if Canada starts to offer an immigration policy for migrant workers that have been coming to Canada to work for multiple years.
It can also be further proven that from my paper migrant workers come to Canada every year and are discriminated and are exploited in the work conditions they face everyday. This is an important social issue that these migrants face once arriving in Canada. They are this generations slave labour. This is an important point proven, because it important to see that there are many issues in the program that must be fixed, such as the living and work conditions of the migrants.
In the long run this program does provide migrant workers with enough money to be able to support their families given that they come back to Canada to work every year. In implicates on development because although it allows Canada to become prosperous, the participating countries of CSWAP is hardly benefiting and becoming more developed. This is an economic issue that the countries of migrant workers face. The CSWAP program works at benefiting Canada the most by allowing our farmers to become prosperous therefore contributing to our economy. However the program has little interest with improving the lives of the migrant labourers and ways in which their quality of life can improve at home.
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