$400 deposit fee finally dropped but other 'outrageous' exploitation practices against Guatemalan migrants continue in Quebec, says UFCW Canada.
Ottawa (2 Sept. 2010) - An international campaign by Canadian labour activists has persuaded the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and a major Canadian employer association to stop demanding a $400 deposit from more than 4,000 temporary Guatemalan farm workers employed mainly in Quebec.
The change has come about following pressure from the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW Canada) and the Agriculture Workers Alliance (AWA). The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) has worked closely for many years with UFCW Canada on many issues, including rights for farm workers.
The payments had been demanded by Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (FARMS), which administers a program called the Foundation of Enterprises for the Recruitment of Foreign Labor (FERME).
UFCW Canada says its campaign, No More Injustice and Oppression Against Migrants!, has finally shamed IOM and FARMS to stop demanding this "outrageous security payment" from Guatemalan migrants. The reversal was announced in a recent IOM news release.
"This is just a small victory that will strengthen our resolve to defend the Guatemalan migrant workers who harvest our food," says Wayne Hanley, UFCW Canada's national president. "We will continue this fight until every discriminatory clause of this contract is reviewed and reformed to be in conformity with Canadian and international labour and human rights."
Workers visiting AWA Centres in Saint-Remi and Saint-Eustache confirmed to activists that newly-arrived Guatemalan migrants did not have to pay the deposit. They expressed their gratitude to the people and organizations who sent protest letters to the Harper government in Ottawa.
"The Guatemalan migrants also explained that the policy shift comes as a huge relief because the $400 deposit was almost always borrowed from loan sharks, who would take everything from the workers if they couldn't earn enough to keep up with the debt payments," UFCW Canada notes.
AWA activist Andrea Galvez says the payment was "just one example of rampant exploitation" within the federally-administered Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP).
Abuses of the program have led to the filing of two complaints within the past year, one with the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the other with the Quebec Labour Standards Board. The first alleges a violation of the migrants' Charter rights and the second concerns inflated housing prices forced on temporary workers.
UFCW Canada is calling on all activists, friends and supporters to continue to send letters and lobby the Harper Conservatives to ensure fair treatment of the migrants.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE
Guatemalan Migrants Deserve Our Respect!