“Temporary foreign workers are entitled to the same benefits and protections as any other worker in Ontario.”
Those aren’t my words, although they are 100 per cent true. They were pulled from a Government of Ontario media release dated June 24, 2020. To be clear, these benefits include health care, workers compensation, protection under the Employment Standards Act, the provincial minimum wage and, like every other worker in Ontario during the pandemic, job protection if they have to take an unpaid leave because of COVID-19.
Supporting the media release from his government, Premier Doug Ford, during his June 24 daily media briefing, stated: “No one will lose their job if they have COVID-19. No one will be sent home if they have COVID-19. If you have to self-isolate, you will be eligible for WSIB benefits and if you have a Social Insurance Number, you may be eligible for the CERB. We are here to support essential workers who help put food on all of our tables.”
It shouldn’t be necessary to point this out.
It is common sense to understand that if you are coming to Ontario, to Canada, to work, you are protected just like every other worker in the province and country.
But one of the most common misconceptions — or, as they are, outright lies — being spread by opponents to the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program is that our workers are somehow treated as less than what they are: Important members of our community who are doing the hard and necessary tasks to protect and preserve Canada’s food security.
What is important to understand is the underlying motivation behind those who are frequently criticizing the seasonal worker program. One of the most vocal critics of the program is the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change. Among the long list of groups it cites as its members or supporters, two stand out: UNIFOR and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW).
Without question, these are powerful unions. And they are anxious to unionize agricultural labour — UFCW in particular.
In an effort to organize workers at a medical cannabis farm, UFCW launched a constitutional challenge against the Agricultural Employees Protection Act to the Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal amid a claim of unfair labour practices against the parent company.
After hearings last fall, the Tribunal issued a two-part ruling this spring. The Tribunal first outright dismissed union claims on intimidation and unfair terminations while also noting that the union’s own actions had played a part in derailing their organization efforts. Second, the Tribunal dismissed the Charter of Rights and Freedoms against the AEPA, noting that the AEPA does not prevent agricultural workers from engaging in a union.
We see the UFCW use similar tactics — spreading misconceptions and mistruths — to further its own objectives with seasonal workers.
They rail against the living conditions of the workers. But they ignore the rigorous inspections of bunkhouses from agencies like Service Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Labour and local public health departments.
They erroneously claim workers are paid less than minimum wage and do not have access to Employment Insurance of WSIB benefits.
It cannot be made more clear that it is not in a farmer’s interests to abuse his labour supply. Farmers depend on these workers to first keep crops healthy and growing, and then to get them off the land and to market.
The latest salvo from critics is to question the residency status of seasonal workers. Again, this is a diversion in an effort to paint farmers as the enemy. Farmers are not denying citizenship or permanent residency to seasonal workers.
Without question, there isn’t a worker in this program who wouldn’t make a great Canadian citizen. They have a strong work ethic, value their families and broader community and are upstanding individuals. But that is a question for Immigration Canada, not a farmer.
The motivation in all of this is money. The unions want the dues they would get from seasonal agricultural workers. They want control of family farms and, to be blunt, this will jeopardize Canada’s food supply.
And there is little they won’t say to get it, truth be damned.
Ken Forth is president of the Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services, which administers the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program in Ontario. He is also a broccoli farmer in Flamborough, Ont.