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News Article

Mexico Halts Migration of Workers to Canadian Farms

By Alejandro Ehrenberg | Tue, 06/16/2020 - 15:47

Mexico has put on hold the flow of seasonal farmworkers to Canada after two Mexican workers died over the past few weeks and dozens more were hospitalized amid the COVID-19 pandemic, CNN reports. These workers flock to Canada every year as part of the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) and are essential to Canada’s agriculture industry. Mexico’s decision has fueled questionings around Canada’s safety protocols for seasonal workers.

As described by the Canadian government, SAWP “allows employers to hire temporary foreign workers (TFW) when Canadians and permanent residents are not available. These employers can hire TFWs from participating countries for a maximum period of eight months, provided they are able to offer the workers a minimum of 240 hours of work within a period of six weeks or less.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit Canada in March, authorities implemented health protocols to allow seasonal farmworkers to enter the country. The measures included a 14-day quarantine period upon arrival. Nevertheless, subsequent parts of the protocols were not completely germane to actual farm conditions. As reported by The Globe and Mail, “rules were rolled out but they were not adequately enforced and failed to consider what life on a farm is actually like for a migrant worker. Workers often live in bunkhouses where they share bathrooms and kitchens and climb atop one another to get into bed.”

CNN notes that the Mexican government has decided to temporarily suspend its participation in SAWP to evaluate safety conditions in farms. “A temporary ban means that up to 5,000 Mexican workers are currently waiting to come to Canada,” the news network points out. CNN goes on to say that Ambassador Juan Gómez, “has been in daily communication with the Canadian government to try to understand why and how hundreds of Mexican workers have been infected with COVID-19.”

The crisis may bring needed improvements to SAWP. Bethany Hastie, a law professor at the University of British Columbia, says in an article for The Conversation that “now that migrant workers have been spotlighted, as well as the true value of the work they do, it is time Canada dramatically improved its working conditions, its pay, its legal rights and its opportunity to immigrate to Canada.”

Hastie recommends that the wages of seasonal farmworkers be increased to reflect the essential nature of their work. Likewise, she encourages more rigorous labor inspections at their workplaces to make sure violations are not being committed. Finally, Hastie underscores the fact that seasonal farmworkers are not eligible for citizenship, even when they sometimes accumulate years of work in Canada — that, too, must be put under revision, she says.

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Alejandro Ehrenberg Alejandro Ehrenberg Journalist and Industry Analyst