Is there 'systemic slavery' in Canada?

Advocacy group says migrant workers 'turned into machines, rather than being treated like people'

Is there 'systemic slavery' in Canada?

An advocate is calling for a revamp of the system that governs migrant worker’s employment in Canada.

“As it currently stands, the Seasonal Agriculture Workers Program is systemic slavery,” says Syed Hussan, executive director at Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.

Hussan made the statement in an open letter to Jamaica’s Ministry of Labour, where he called for better conditions for these workers.

Focusing on the accommodations, he says that most migrant farm workers are living in employer-controlled housing “which is basically stables or warehouses where people are living in bunk beds, climbing on top of each other to sleep, even in COVID.”

“[The workers] don’t have privacy, have community, have friends visit, have their families live with them. This housing is about warehousing people and in this way, humans are being undignified and turned into machines, rather than being treated like complete people,” he says.

During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, some 25 per cent of the total death count because of COVID-19 were attributed to immigrants, according to a previous report. Also, migrant farm workers who come to Ontario from other countries are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and other diseases. This is due to their communal living and working conditions.

A week after the letter was sent, a Jamaican farm worker – 57-year-old Garvin Yapp – was fatally injured while operating farm equipment.

“We do not know if his family will receive any compensation,” says Hussan in a CTV News report about the worker. Hussan adds that “human beings are being treated like machines,” referring to migrant farm workers.

The Migrant Workers Alliance wants these workers to be granted permanent residency so they can advocate for their rights without fear of being deported or fired.

In July 2021, the federal government outlined 14 regulatory amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (Temporary Foreign Workers).

Also, Budget 2022 proposes a number of measures to increase protections for workers, to reduce administrative burdens for trusted repeat employers, and to ensure employers can quickly bring in workers to fill short-term labour market gaps.


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