Helping migrant workers must be part of new food policy

December 22, 2017
Article Source
Toronto Star

From a Toronto Star opinion piece: 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.

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