PhD Candidate Anelyse Weiler and Professors Janet McLaughlin (Wilfred Laurier University) and Donald Cole (University of Toronto Dalla Lana School of Public Health) recently published an op-ed piece in the Toronto Star. The piece outlines the exploitative conditions experienced by Temporary Foreign Workers in the agricultural sector in Canada, and propose solutions to improve the conditions of workers in the upcoming National Food Policy. Anelyse Weiler is a PhD Candidate in Sociology at the University of Toronto. She is currently working toward her dissertation on The Periphery in the Core: Investigating Migration, Agrarian Citizenship and Metabolic Rift Through a Case Study of the Apple.
We have posted an excerpt of the piece below.
Helping migrant workers must be part of new food policy
By Anelyse Weiler, Janet McLaughlin, Donald Cole
Dec. 22, 2017
To keep her job, Maria had to hide her pregnancy from her farm employer, work with chemicals and do heavy-lifting, and forgo prenatal care. Despite paying into Canadian EI for nine seasons, this single mom will be denied any benefits when she gives birth to her second child in Mexico this winter. Maria worries how she will feed her growing family.
Maria’s story shows how Canadian food, labour, and immigration policies create unique forms of food insecurity for low-wage migrant farm workers. She joins some 50,000 people who come to Canada each year through agricultural streams of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
Farm workers are “tied” to one employer and, unless they marry a Canadian, in most provinces they can never become permanent residents. By design, the program amplifies the power disparity between bosses and workers. It makes workers afraid to complain about bad working and housing conditions, sexual harassment, or injuries because they might get fired and deported, losing the chance to continue supporting their families from afar.
Yet in the lead-up to a national food policy, a new federal government Standing Committee report is oddly silent about the systemic inequities faced by low-wage migrant workers in Canadian industries, such as farming, meat packing and fast-food.
One of the report’s core recommendations is “to ensure sufficient labour is available in the agriculture and agri-food sector, including through the temporary foreign worker[s] program to attract and retain talent, with a possible path to permanent residency.”
It’s unclear if such “pathways” refer to low-wage streams. The stated purpose of Canada’s national food policy, which Ottawa will unroll in the next six months, is to provide a guide for decision-making across the food chain to support a healthy economy, society, and environment.
Reducing barriers to growth for Canada’s domestic and export food markets is a theme throughout the report. As we demonstrate in a study in International Migration, powerful agribusiness voices have declared Canada’s farming sector can only remain competitive by hiring racialized, non-citizen workers whose rights and freedoms are severely circumscribed compared to Canadians.
Pitting Canadian food security agricultural viability against the rights of migrant workers is a false ethical choice. While many agricultural businesses’ bottom lines currently depend on deportable workers, there are far more sensible paths for moving food from field to fork.