I spent a little time with some migrant farmworkers this afternoon, a little fiesta, sharing food and listening to music. Here’s a video interviewing photographer and activist Vincenzo Pietropaolo describing a little of what, from his point of view, it’s like to be a migrant worker, coming from another country. I think the Seasonal Workers or Migrant Workers Program in Canada began around 1966, when sufficient Canadians were in general unwilling to work the long hours for limited pay under demanding conditions. This led to a labour shortage.

One important and forgotten aspect, in my opinion, of migrant work is the angst and heartache it takes to leave one’s family for 2 to 8 or 10 months a year, every year. The strain on marriage, on relationships with kids, must be profound. These separations produce some problems, undeniably.

The situation begs one simple question: should working conditions for migrant workers offer enough freedom and kindness to allow for human dignity and the protection of standard human rights? Where this is so, that should be celebrated. Where it’s not, conditions should be improved, no? Is that anti-free trade? Is that price fixing? Isn’t it just treating human beings fairly? Does anyone actually disagree with this?

So then, how much human dignity? How about as much human dignity as an employer or a consumer of ‘farmworked’ food would like to experience if they were in migrant shoes?

For the record, migrant workers in Ontario lost the right to unionize in 1995. There have been attempts to reverse that decision. I’m not sure where it’s at now.

In Quebec, this from Lancaster House (labour law on-line) Farmworkers gain right to unionize in Quebec (June 2, 2010):

The Quebec Labour Relations Board has ruled that a provision of the province’s Labour Code which effectively precludes the acquisition of collective bargaining rights by seasonal farm workers is a breach of the freedom of association guaranteed in s.2(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.


There is a union sign that says, with respect to migrant workers who have virtually no chance of getting into Canada:

“Good enough to work [here], good enough to stay [here].”

Indeed, obviously most any human being is good enough to stay, good enough to, if possible, live in a safer, higher quality-of-life place. I don’t by definition necessarily believe that staying in Canada permanently has to be a given with working here. However, what I think should be a given is this:

“Good enough to work here, good enough to be treated justly, fairly, and with dignity.”

If the deal is to come here and work, but not stay, make that clear. Don’t mess with people in vulnerable situations. And make that work fair, decent-paying, and make the workplace safe and dignified. And if migrant workers are not given a real opportunity to stay, should they not have real access to protective mechanisms that allow them to be able to defend their rights while in Canada—according to Canadian labour laws?

In the States, I think migrant workers are even less monitored. Correct me if this isn’t true. Here’s a report from Amnesty International from April of 2010, on migrant workers who are, for the most part, either from Mexico or trying to get through Mexico to reach, in general, the US. Female migrant workers on these routes, are even more vulnerable than the men.

A few questions worth asking myself: Where does my food come from? From what kind of soil? Who picked it? And to be fair to the employer, who put up the capital and effort to begin the enterprise? Is it subsidized by tax-payer dollars? Are the conditions decent? Ill keep trying to think about this before my next meals, with a little more love and gratitude.

Lots of love,



Leave a Reply