Open letter to MP Ryan Leef:
We have just returned from Mexico where we have gotten to know some of the people who work on the farms that produce some of the food that we eat every day, like tomatoes, grapes, oranges, and much more.
What we have learnt is that these people are often abused and taken advantage of. Their salary is very low, about $10 a day Canadian. This is not surprising, but it still is sad that those who work growing our food do not have enough to feed their families well.
These conditions make Canada seem like heaven for them and they want to come here to work. We have friends from Mexico that have come to Canada to work as farm labourers. What a surprise for them when some things are not much better here.
They may not be treated illegally, but the problem is how Canadian law allows farm workers to be treated. One of our Mexican friends told us of working up to 20 hours a day, with no overtime, and feeling that if he did not comply with his boss’ wishes that he would be sent back. He described his work as being in a prison without walls. But it was all legal.
Allow me to quote from the Manitoba labour standards branch:
“What about employees who spend one season in climate-controlled facilities, and the rest of the year working both indoors and outside?
If employees are hired to work partly outside on the farm and partly inside a climate-controlled facility, they would not be entitled to minimum standards regarding overtime, hours of work, general holidays or wages for reporting to work.
An example of this is an employee of a vegetable farm, who works outside tending to the crop for part of the year, and then works in a climate-controlled facility during the winter for grading, packaging and shipping.”
Things only get worse for farm workers in Alberta and Nova Scotia. They are the only provinces where workplace safety standards don’t apply to farms. In Alberta, farm owners don’t have to be part of the workers’ compensation program, and the government doesn’t have to investigate fatalities like it does for other industries. Farm workers are also barred from unionizing.
Conditions like these are what we would expect to find in third world countries, but not Canada. I think it is time for the federal government to step in and put pressure on the provinces to change their farm labor laws and bring them in line with the other sectors.
Thank you for taking the time to make positive changes for those who bring us our daily bread.