Migrant workers rally in St. Catharines
Published: Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Updated: Thursday, July 5, 2012 15:07
Over 50 migrant workers from all over South Western Ontario took a huge risk the first weekend of September participating in what organizers called a "Community Reality Tour". The tour made stops in St. Catharines, Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake.
According to organizers, the tour followed the Underground Railroad – stopping in cities along the way to educate the public and question whether these communities still represent freedom for migrant agricultural workers. Though organizers also state that participating was a bit too much of a gamble for some local workers.
"It is definitely very, very risky," said organizer Tzazna Miranda, from Justice for Migrant Workers.
Miranda said that at any point an employer may fire an employee and the employee then risks deportation. If sent home the employee risks not being able to return to Canada to work another year.
However, for some the risk was worth it. "Animals and second class citizens" are some of the words Miranda said that the workers use to describe how they are treated by their Canadian employers.
"Think of how proud Niagara is of its wine and fruit production […] we ask our community to buy locally because it is better environmentally and economically, but is it more ethical?"
The rallying workers took the risk of protesting not only to educate but also to demand for better working and living conditions.
"They receive very little training — if any is present and what they do receive is often in a language they cannot understand — and that can be very dangerous," said Miranda, adding that the workers are given little to no training before they must deal with dangerous machinery that can lead to bodily injury such as limb amputation. She also said that rules regarding pesticides are often ignored, which severely affects the workers heath – sending some home with cancer.
As for the housing conditions: "It is something you or I would never tolerate," Miranda said, after explaining that the worker accommodations often have rats, mice, mould, no heating or air conditioning and are almost always over crowded.
"They want to support their families and send their children to school, a luxury many were not able to have as children," Miranda said.
The tour, which has two more dates (the first is Sept. 26 stopping in Windsor and Leamington, the second is Oct. 2 stopping in Simcoe, Hamilton and Toronto), wishes to educate the communities it visits about the realities of the "very cheap, very exploitable labour" that makes up our areas agricultural workforce.
"Putting social pressure on the farmers to make changes," is what Miranda concludes is the hope behind educating the community on issues faced by the migrant workers.
"To understand any argument […] we must try to understand it from as many perspectives as possible […]for Canadian students, it is important to understand the role that Canada has in this discussion," said Brock University English Professor Jonathan Allan.
Professor Allan screened the film The Contract for his Latin American Studies students, which demonstrates many of the conditions the migrant workers on the tour are rallying against, and he relayed that it is important for students to understand the workers side of the story.