The United Nations (UN) proclaimed December 18 as International Migrants Day to recognize the contributions of migrants around the world and to acknowledge everything migrant workers do to help the economies of their host communities.
The UN theme for 2021 is Harnessing the Potential of Human Mobility. This has never been closer to the truth as we reach unprecedented levels of persons around the world living in countries outside of their birth countries. Globally, 281 million people were migrants in 2020.
In Canada, systemic inequities continue to deny migrant workers’ rights. Globally, Canada has yet to ratify the International Convention of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.
Recently, the Auditor General of Canada released a report which noted that inspectors working for Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) failed to enforce the necessary pandemic regulations to protect workers against COVID-19. An alarming statistic from this report shows that 89% of inspections could not demonstrate that the employer was protecting the health and safety of workers.
Despite this, migrant labour remains a staple of the Canadian economy that continued food production and processing even when other sectors were shutdown due to the pandemic. On average, about 50,000 to 60,000 agricultural workers arrive in Canada on an annual basis and by July 2021, 41,000 workers had arrived in the country.
UFCW Canada has continued to lead efforts in defense of the rights of all migrant workers participating in both the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP) and the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP). This advocacy has led to life-saving interventions.
As a union, we support workers who have been subjected to human trafficking and defend workers in obtaining open work-permits when facing human rights violations on the job. Furthermore, hundreds of migrant workers obtained sick leave benefits because they were supported by UFCW Canada in navigating a complicated application system. Many workers faced language and communication barriers upon testing positive for COVID-19 and without UFCW Canada advocacy would have been completely dependent on their employers to meet their basic needs.
Reflecting on the 2021 UN theme, Harnessing the Potential of Human Mobility means fighting for the right to unionize agricultural and temporary foreign workers in Canada. Confidence in Canada’s temporary migration programs will not be restored so long as the design of immigration policies focus on sustaining precarious labour. It also means continued advocacy to ensure that migrant workers’ rights are strengthened at all levels of government and through bilateral nation-state agreements.
Migrant workers sustain Canada’s food supply and as another year dawns, we give gratitude for the sacrifices and labour that accompany this mobility.
To support the rights of migrant workers in Canada, sign the petition here.
As the union for food workers, UFCW Canada has more than three decades of experience working in collaboration with the Agriculture Workers Alliance (AWA) to lead the fight for migrant workers’ rights in Canada. To learn more about this important work, visit UFCW Canada’s Agriculture Workers website.