Mexican migrant workers unionize

Workers in Manitoba and Quebec want say in wages and living conditions

Mexican migrant workers at three farms in Quebec and one farm in Manitoba have applied to join the United Food and Commercial Workers of Canada union.

Wages and living conditions for the thousands of migrant workers who come to Canada every year from Mexico are set up by the Mexican and Canadian governments under the federal government's Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SWAP).

However, if the certification applications are granted by the Quebec and Manitoba labour boards, the Mexican workers at the four farms will be able to bargain their own wages and working conditions.

"These men and women supply an essential service. We have food on our tables because of these workers," said Wayne Hanley, the national director of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) of Canada. "By choosing to form a union, these workers will have a say in how they are treated and compensated, which they never have had under SAWP."

Every year nearly 18,000 workers from Mexico and Caribbean countries are brought to Canada under SAWP and are typically paid minimum wage.

The workers, who are contracted exclusively to a single farm location for the season, are admitted under temporary work permits that require them to return to their home countries after their employers either fire them or have no more work for them.

Without the protection of a collective agreement, workers have historically been hesitant to report dangerous working conditions or hostile employers for fear of being sent home or blacklisted from returning the next season.

Certification hearings in Quebec are expected to start this week, while the Manitoba hearings will start before the end of October.

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