Migrant farmworkers SPEAK OUT for dignified living conditions!

Watch this video on farmworkers speaking out for the decent and dignified living conditions we deserve, and read the executive summary of our submission to the government’s housing consultations.

Decent Dignified Housing for Migrant Farmworkers

Migrant Rights Network – Food & Farmworkers Working Group Submissions to Consultations on Mandatory Requirements for Employer-Provided Accommodations in the TFW Program, 2020

Executive Summary

Housing Cannot Be Improved Without Full and Permanent Immigration Status for All

Bonifacio Eugenio Romero
Rogelio Muñoz Santos
Juan Lopez Chaparro

Migrant farmworkers that died from COVID-19. Each infected in an outbreak on their farm because of their housing and working conditions. Each infected because they were not able to protect themselves because of their lack of permanent immigration status. 

For over half a century now, migrant farmworkers have been coming to Canada growing and packaging food and feeding communities. Despite the permanent need for their work, their immigration status in Canada is temporary. 

Lack of permanent immigration status is not simply about denying migrants the security and stability of being able to stay in Canada permanently. Access to basic rights and the ability to enforce them is determined by immigration status. This is especially true for those on tied permits, like migrant farm workers.

When speaking out results in termination, homelessness, being forced to leave the country, and not being able to return, asking for fair wages, decent housing, or a safe workplace becomes simply impossible.

At least one in 23 people in Canada today are migrant or undocumented, without full immigration status. The immigration system has created a category of person – the migrant – who is excluded from existing legal rights and protections at the provincial and federal level. It is not feasible to change discrete labour, education, housing, health, policing and other laws at both the federal level and in 13 provinces and territories to include this category of person without addressing the fundamental instrument of their exclusion. We must create a society where all residents have equal rights and access, and that means full and permanent immigration status. 

It is neither effective nor just to simply amend laws and policies that emerge from this temporary immigration system. The current housing consultations are only necessary because migrant farmworkers do not have the power to assert their rights under existing landlord-tenant protections in provinces and territories because of their immigration status. 

Rather than perpetuate a system where the people that grow our food and feed us continue to be indentured to their employers – in which employer-provided housing is a central tool of that subjugation – we must envision a just food system where those that sustain it are treated with the dignity, respect and appreciation they deserve. 

The first step in this is creating a single-tier immigration system where all residents of the country have the same and equal rights and status. Only then can farm workers assert their rights to dignified and decent housing. 

Top Migrant Farmworker Priorities for Decent Housing

Despite significant challenges and limitations in the consultation processes (outlined below), migrant worker-led organizations reached out to and spoke with hundreds of migrant farmworkers between November 1st and 21st through a number of different mechanisms outlined in the methodology section. We received input from 453 migrant farmworkers across the country. This submission summarizes their demands for decent housing.

The worker feedback presented in this report must be understood in the context of the extreme power imbalance between workers and employers and the long history of abuse and exploitation of migrant farm work programs. Migrant farmworkers are wary of speaking their whole truths. Their experiences are worse than what is detailed here, and their demands are much greater. 

Yet even with these downward pressures on workers’ demands, the results of our consultations reveal two core guiding principles that underpin workers’ demands. 

These principles are: 

Worker self-determination: Workers want the autonomy to make decisions about their lives as every human being deserves. They do not want employers or governments making decisions for them. It is workers’ needs and wants that should guide all decisions about workers’ housing. 

Humanity, dignity and respect: Workers want to live and work in conditions that respect their full humanity and not be treated as machines or worse, ‘slaves’, as many stated in their responses to this consultation. Migrant workers deserve homes , not just housing. 

Further, we insist that the guidelines must prioritize: 

  • Urgency: Housing is indecent, inhumane and unlivable today. There is no time to lose. Illness has spread and cost lives and rights have been trampled. Robust and enforceable guidelines must be put into place immediately.
  • Enforceable Rights: Migrant workers want rights that are real, which means rights they can enforce. The proposed guidelines must be coupled with proactive enforcement, anti-reprisal protections, and full and permanent immigration status for all. 

The top five priorities identified by migrant workers in our consultation process are:

  1. Privacy: Over half (51%) of the respondents identified privacy as the priority for decent housing. Migrant farmworkers see this as a matter of basic human dignity. Being warehoused with many others or crowded together in small houses makes it impossible for workers to take care of their physical and mental health and well-being.
  2. Space: Nearly half the respondents (43.43%) highlighted space as their key priority. Workers want communal as well as private space, both indoor and outdoor, where they can relax during their spare time, watch TV, play sports, host guests, socialise and grow food. They want storage space for their personal belongings. They need separate change rooms to be able to keep dirty work clothes away from living spaces for cooking and resting.  Many workers spoke specifically about the mental and physical toll from living in crowded housing, and the need for no more than 1 or 2 people per bathroom and kitchen. 
  3. Quality of life: Nearly one in three workers (28.1%) identified quality of life needs as key priorities. They want their housing to include laundry, kitchen, shower and bathroom facilities under one roof so they don’t have to travel large distances between them. They want to have clean drinking water, hot water for showers, heating in winter, and cooling in the summer. They want furniture and basic amenities (such as blenders, coffee makers, etc) to be in good condition, and have access to phones and free internet. They want less social isolation: workers want their homes away from their workplaces and employers’ homes, and closer to grocery stores, remittance services and health facilities. 
  4. Family unity: More than one in four (26.28%) workers said they want their families here with them. Many migrant workers spend 8 months of the year in Canada, others spend 2 or more years at a time. Migrant workers want homes where their families can live with them, but the majority said they don’t want their families living in conditions like their current housing. Demands for family are demands for full and permanent immigration status. 
  5. Worker Control: A quarter of respondents (25%) noted worker control and autonomy as a key priority. Migrant workers want the freedom to choose when to be alone or in social spaces; to be quiet or loud; when to cook and where to eat; to live without employer surveillance or control over their movement or visitors; to choose when to eat or shower without having to negotiate with others. Migrant workers want the freedom to make choices in their housing, not live under the current institutionalized conditions.

The results of our survey are very clear: 

  • 79.9% of workers don’t want a bunk bed;
  • 62% of respondents want their own room;
  • 84.9% want to share a bathroom with no more than one person; 
  • 84.3% want to share a kitchen with no more than one person; 
  • 46% of respondents believe their housing should be improved “A LOT”;
  • 85.6% of respondents believe they should have full and permanent immigration status on arrival; and
  • 65% are unsatisfied with the building structure of their homes; 78% are unsatisfied with common spaces, 70.6% are unsatisfied with furniture; 74.3% are unsatisfied with sleeping areas; 63.3% are unsatisfied with laundry areas, 66.1% are unsatisfied with bathroom areas; and 48.6% are unsatisfied with internet and phone access. 


We also received significant feedback on the experiences and worker satisfaction with current housing, including data on room-sharing, which is detailed graphically below. 


We call on the federal government to create enforceable national standards for dignified housing for all migrants in employer controlled homes (including migrant care workers) immediately and ensure full and permanent immigration status for all migrant and undocumented people.

Limitations of these Housing Consultations

On July 31, 2020, the federal government finally made an announcement about migrant farmworkers. Instead of changing any laws or creating new policies, $52.6 million were allocated to employers. The announcement also promised to “work to develop mandatory requirements to improve employer-provided accommodations, focusing on ensuring better living conditions for workers.” This was in response to recommendations by us calling for a “national housing standard so that workers can live safely and with dignity,” as part of a package of reforms starting with full and permanent immigration status for all.

The government’s announcement followed multiple communications by migrant worker led organizations including (but not limited to):

  • March 16, 2020: Letter by Migrant Rights Network on healthcare, immigration, worker rights, emergency income and offering our support to ensure migrants were at the table to create a response to COVID-19. 
  • March 26, 2020: Letter by Migrant Rights Network on income support for migrants in Canada. 
  • April 1, 2020: Letter by Migrant Rights Network migrant farmworkers and housing.
  • May 12, 2020: Public statements in response to the Agri-Food Immigration Pilot Program, which continues to exclude most farmworkers outlining policy mechanisms to ensure migrant rights and protections. 
  • June 15, 2020: Migrant Workers Alliance for Change released a damning report showing immense migrant worker exploitation during COVID-19 and lack of supports for migrants outlining 17 recommendations. 

The consultations announced in July were effectively launched on October 28th. In the call for feedback, the federal government identified that the purpose of this consultation is “not to pursue short-term changes for the 2021 season or to address the current pandemic”.  

That is, eight months into a pandemic, with over 1,600 migrant farmworkers infected across Canada, with at least 125 infected as we write this just in Ontario, with three workers dead, absolutely no laws and policies have been created that will even come into force in 2021, much less deal with the crisis at hand in 2020. 

Neither the consultation process nor the guiding documents were created by migrant workers and their organizations. As a result, they suffer several critical weaknesses, including: 

  • These consultations completely leave out migrant care workers who live in employer-controlled housing;
  • The consultations are open to employers, provincial governments and even the general public. No mechanism has been outlined to prioritize migrant farmworker input over that of others despite the massive power imbalance that exists and the fact that migrant workers are the ones that live in these houses; 
  • The regulations proposed do not include an enforcement strategy;
  • The consultation documents were circulated in English as PDFs on October 28th to migrant supporting organizations and employers. Migrant workers speak multiple languages, but may not have high levels of reading and writing literacy. Most are unable to give input in response to emailed documents in English; 
  • The consultations were launched at a time that most migrant farmworkers are unable to participate. Most workers start leaving Canada after Thanksgiving, the end of harvest. Those that remain are at the end of the season and working overtime. Those that have returned home are often in regions without reliable telephone or internet access; 
  • Almost all farmworkers have had their mobility restricted by their employers who are refusing to let them leave the farms or have visitors. Workers have limited access to the internet and telephone on farms in Canada; 
  • No resources were provided to migrant worker supporting organizations to facilitate worker participation in these consultations; and
  • The guidelines largely do not treat migrants as full human beings with social lives, collective and individual needs, and with differing opinions from farm to farm. 

News update: Migrant Workers Win!

Intimidated and fired for asserting his rights and speaking to the media, migrant farmworker Gabriel Flores refused to back down. 

With the help of other migrant workers, he took his multi-millionaire bosses at Scotlynn Farms to the labour board and won $24,000! But his case is just the tip of the iceberg. The immigration system is to blame for giving employers the tools they use to intimidate and punish workers.

Join us in sharing this good news and calling on Prime Minister Trudeau to Ensure Full & Permanent Immigration Status for All!

Sign and share: www.StatusforAll.ca

News update: Right to Free Movement

Watch this video about our right to free movement.

Accurate as of September 1, 2020

Have questions? Send us a WhatsApp message: 905-324-2840

United, we are stronger!

News update: Status for All!

We took action for Full and Permanent Immigration Status for All!

Have questions or need support? Send us a WhatsApp message: 905-324-2840

Migrant worker fired for speaking to journalists calls for full immigration status for all

Toronto, July 30, 2020 — Migrant farmworker, Luis Gabriel Flores Flores, who was fired for speaking to journalists after testing positive for COVID-19, calls on the Minister of Immigration Marco Mendicino today to demand immigration status for all. 

Reading from a letter he had written, Mr Flores said, “What happened to me is what happens to migrants when we try to defend their rights. We have been subjected to a system of temporary immigration where if we stand up for ourselves, we are deported. Today, I am here to say to you that I am not afraid. That I deserve dignity. That all of us deserve dignity. That is why we need permanent resident status now, so workers can have the power to protect ourselves. Our health, our well-being, our families, and our lives depend on it.” See Mr Flores’ full letter to the Minister of Immigration here

Mr Flores first came to Canada in 2014, and is a father of 2 children from Mexico. In 2020, he came to work at Scotlynn Farms. He tested positive for COVID-19 and was quarantined. During that time he spoke to journalists about the poor living conditions and mistreatment at Scotlynn Farms. On June 20th, Juan López Chaparro, who also worked at Scotlynn farm and lived with Mr Flores, died from COVID-19. The following day, Mr Flores was fired by Mr Robert Biddle Jr., founder of Scotlynn Farms.

“For years, we have called on the federal government to stop tipping the scales against migrant workers, to stop giving employers complete control over workers’ lives. All migrants must have the power to protect themselves, to speak up, to leave abusive and dangerous situations, and that means full immigration status for all is essential,” says Syed Hussan, Executive Director of Migrant Workers Alliance for Change. “The federal government needs to send a signal to migrant and undocumented people across the country today that what happened to Mr Flores will not be tolerated, and that migrants who speak out will be protected.”

Over 1,100 migrant farmworkers in Ontario have been infected with COVID-19 because of their housing and working conditions. One in 23 people (over 1.6 million people) in Canada are migrants, refugees, or undocumented. They are unable to access essential services, assert basic rights or access emergency support. Employer reprisals against them are common.

Over 10,000 people have signed a petition calling for permanent resident status for all and other protections for migrants: https://migrantrights.ca/covid19/. A visual petition of over 200 migrant workers calling for status was recently posted on Prime Minister Trudeau’s office: https://twitter.com/MWACCanada/status/1284122949549785093

Timeline of Reprisals Against Mr Flores

  • Mr Flores came to Canada on April 18, 2020, and was in quarantine for two weeks at a hotel. 
  • He started work at Scotlynn Farms in Norfolk, Ontario, where housing and working conditions were very poor. It was impossible for workers to physically distance, workers had no Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and they were not allowed to rest. 
  • A couple of weeks later several of Mr Flores’s colleagues started showing COVID-19 symptoms. Mr Flores and others repeatedly requested medical attention for them. 
  • They were told by supervisors that information had been shared with management but no medical attention was provided and no testing was done. 
  • Eventually workers got so sick, that one of Mr Flores’s colleagues called a contact off the farm to send an ambulance. 
  • As a result, testing finally occurred at the end of May and nearly 200 workers at the farm tested positive, including Mr Flores. 
  • While in quarantine, Mr Flores shared the story of labour exploitation and sub-standard housing with Globe & Mail on June 10, 2020 and Toronto Star on June 13, 2020 in tandem with a report released by the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC). He was one of several workers who spoke out. The press conference of the report received coverage on CTV, Global, CBC, Toronto Star, Globe and Mail and many other outlets. 
  • At 11pm on June 20, 2020, Mr Flores and other farmworkers were informed that his roommate Mr Juan Lopez Chaparro had died of COVID-19. 
  • Mr Flores spoke up at that time to supervisors, demanding an explanation from the employer and that the farm take responsibility for what happened. 
  • At 11:00 a.m. on June 21, 2020, Mr. Robert Biddle Jr., founder of Scotlynn Farms, arrived at Mr. Flores’ bunkhouse apartment unit. Mr Biddle showed Mr Flores an image of a video from a press conference by MWAC which featured Mr Flores’ colleague. He told Mr Flores that he would be sent back to Mexico first thing the next morning. Mr Flores insisted that he was not the person in the video. See Mr Biddle’s photo here
  • Mr Biddle left and a foreman reiterated the employer’s decision, and informed Mr Flores that the employer was looking for three other workers they suspected of speaking to the press. 
  • Mr Flores left the farm, and has been housed by a supporter in coordination with Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.
  • On July 30, 2020, Mr Flores filed an anti-reprisals claim to the Ontario Ministry of Labour for $40,401.35 (the maximum possible under existing laws), and visited the office of Federal Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino to call for full and permanent immigration status for all.
  • Mr Flores remains in Canada, on a tied work permit that only allows him to work for Scotlynn, which is set to expire on November 30th. He has no permanent housing, or permanent income and is concerned about how he will support his family back home. 

Media Contact: Syed Hussan, Executive Director, Migrant Workers Alliance for Change416-453-3632, hussan@migrantworkersalliance.org

Report: Unheeded Warnings – COVID-19 & Migrant Workers in Canada

We are releasing a report of complaints on behalf over a thousand migrant workers and their organizations that were unheeded by federal and provincial authorities and consulates in advance of the recent COVID-19 outbreaks, which have led to two worker deaths and at least two in Intensive Care. This shocking report provides a snapshot of the abuses faced by migrant farmworkers, including stolen wages during quarantine, being forced to work while awaiting COVID-19 test results, racist threats, decrepit housing and inhumane treatment. The report situates these abuses in a long history of prior warnings made by migrant workers about Canada’s temporary immigration and labour laws. The report includes a comprehensive set of recommendations made by migrant workers, including permanent resident status for all. 

CLICK HERE TO READ | Press Release here


Migrant Workers / Trabajadores Migrantes: Information about Permanent Residency / Información acerca de la residencia permanente

Watch this video and fill out this form to get information about your rights to permanent resident status. It will take less than 5 minutes! You must answer all questions and click ‘Submit’ at the end for your information to be saved and sent to us. We will keep you updated about your access to permanent resident status.

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Mire este video y llene este formulario para recibir información sobre tus derechos a la residencia permanente. ¡Tomará menos de cinco minutos! Tienes que contestar todas las preguntas y hacer clic en ‘Submit’ al final para que tus respuestas se guarden y las recibamos. Te mantendremos al tanto de noticias acerca de tu acceso a la residencia permanente.

Funded by the Law Foundation of Ontario

Migrant Worker Policy Priorities – May 2019

DOWNLOAD OUR POLICY POSITION HERE.

There are a number of issues of key concern to migrant workers and their support organizations across Canada at this moment. These include:

  1. Employment and Social Development Canada proposals for an occupation specific work permit;
  2. Interim Pathway for Caregivers, set to expire on June 4th, 2019;
  3. Proposal for the creation of permanent residency pilot program for non-seasonal agricultural workers and a permanent residency program for Caregivers; and
  4. Regulations for the creation of an Open Work Permit Program for temporary foreign workers at risk of abuse.

For migrant workers at the receiving end of these programs and proposals, these issues are interconnected. To engage in separate consultations on each matter, and only speak to a part of an issue rather than the whole further fragments the ability of migrant workers to give meaningful input. For these reasons, we are submitting one document that addresses all four issues.

As elaborated below, migrant workers in Canada continue to demand:

  1. Permanent resident status on arrival for all migrant workers in Canada through the creation of a Federal Workers Program for care workers, and in consultation with migrant workers in other streams;
  2. In the interim, creation of open or occupation specific work permits that are not reliant on employers that would allow workers to move freely between jobs and workplaces and work for any employer in a sector;
  3. The extension and then grandparenting of the Interim Pathway for care workers to ensure that no worker is left behind;
  4. Immediate implementation of an Open Work Permit Program for workers facing risk of abuse or being abused.

In this policy memo, the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change*, Association for the Rights of Household & Farm Workers (ARHW)- Montreal, Caregiver Connections Education and Support Organization (CCESO) – Toronto, Caregivers Action Centre – Toronto, Cooper Institute – PEI, FCJ Refugee Centre – Toronto, Immigrant Workers Centre (IWC) Montreal, Income Security Advocacy Centre – Toronto, Migrant Worker Solidarity Network – Manitoba, Migrant Workers Centre (BC), Migrante Alberta, Migrante BC, Migrante Canada, Migrante Manitoba, Migrante Ontario, Migrante Ottawa, Migrante Quebec, Migrants Resource Centre Canada – Toronto, PINAY – Quebec, RAMA – Okanagan, Sanctuary Health – Vancouver and Vancouver Committee for Domestic Workers and Caregivers Rights (CDWCR) propose a joint position on all these matters.

* The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change includes individuals as well as Asian Community Aids Services, Butterfly (Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support), Caregiver Connections Education and Support Organization, Caregivers Action Centre, Durham Region Migrant Solidarity Network, FCJ Refugee House, GABRIELA Ontario, IAVGO Community Legal Clinic, Income Security Advocacy Centre, Migrante Ontario, No One Is Illegal – Toronto, Northumberland Community Legal Centre, OCASI – Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, OHIP For All, PCLS Community Legal Clinic, SALCO Community Legal Clinic, Students Against Migrant Exploitation, UFCW, UNIFOR, Workers Action Centre and Workers United.  

DOWNLOAD OUR POLICY POSITION HERE.