Canada reviewing allegations Ontario farm wrongfully dismissed migrant workers

Mexican and Guatemalan workers pick strawberries at a farm in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

The federal government is investigating allegations that a farm in southwestern Ontario sent six Jamaican seasonal workers home earlier than planned after they protested their living and working conditions.

A spokesperson for Employment and Social Development Canada said it is currently reaching out to its counterparts with the Jamaican government to better understand the allegations involving the farm in Norfolk County.

“The Government of Canada takes its responsibilities with respect to the protection of temporary foreign workers very seriously and takes all necessary measures to ensure their health and safety and to ensure that their rights are respected while they are in Canada,” Samuelle Carbonneau said in an email.

“The mistreatment or abuse of temporary foreign workers is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”

The farm did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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An advocacy group supporting the migrant workers said the six men allege they were abruptly dismissed earlier this month after a one-day protest over living conditions that included a clogged toilet and a flooded bunkhouse that the employer refused to address.

Chris Ramsaroop, an organizer with Justice for Migrant Workers, said the workers also allege that they did not get appropriate breaks during 12-hour shifts while working at the produce farm because they were told to rest at another location, the commute to which took up a majority of their break.

“Workers have expressed on multiple occasions that the employer treats them with disrespect, they yell at them, they call them names,” he alleged in a phone interview.

“They’re constantly put under pressure to work faster and this all feels very dehumanizing to them.”

He also said employers are required to give temporary foreign workers a two-week notice of termination, but in this case the workers were allegedly sent home three days after they were told they were being terminated.

Ramsaroop said being sent back to Jamaica earlier than planned is a financial blow to the workers, some of whom have been coming to Canada as seasonal workers for years.

Taneeta Doma, another member of Justice for Migrant Workers, said seasonal workers who remain at the farm are now worried about their own employment.

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“There’s hesitancy to continue to raise concerns the way that they had before because of what happened to their bunkmates,” Doma said.

Jamaica’s ministry of labour and social security said it is conducting its own review of the matter, adding “several farm workers who were a party to the incident are still on the job in Canada.”

“The ministry will investigate this matter thoroughly and communicate our findings,” it wrote in a statement.

The federal government said that changes to the temporary worker program in 2022 prohibit employers from reprisals against employees.

It also said that if a review finds a farm fails to meet requirements of the temporary foreign worker program, “consequences can include administrative monetary penalties up to a maximum of $1 million and a temporary or permanent ban from the program.”

“Additionally, it is possible that any previous approvals to hire temporary foreign workers for an employer found non-compliant could be revoked,” the government said.

Prior to hiring the workers, Canada also requires employers to submit a housing-inspection report of their accommodations, the government said.

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