Migrant justice advocacy group denounces B.C. nursery's firing of temporary foreign workers
Bylands Nursery says workers broke its rules multiple times, but group claims rules violate human rights
An advocacy group supporting temporary foreign workers in B.C.'s Okanagan is raising concerns after two Mexican workers were fired from a West Kelowna nursery for violating the company's policies.
Amy Cohen, an organizer with Radical Action with Migrants in Agriculture (RAMA), visited the pair at Bylands Nursery on June 28 to deliver clothing and culturally appropriate food. Cohen alleges the pair had been told they were not allowed to leave the property or have visitors, for the duration of their work.
According to Cohen, the pair were terminated two days later.
"They were incredibly upset," Cohen said.
"They felt that the restrictions were really discriminatory and unfair, seeing as they applied only to the temporary foreign workers and not Bylands other employees who are Canadian and so they were really upset also, because they rely on the money that they earn here in Canada to support their families in Mexico."
CBC has asked the nursery for confirmation of their policies and who they apply to multiple times. Bylands has not responded to those requests.
In an emailed statement to CBC, Bylands owner Mike Byland said his staff communicated workplace and accommodation policies to all new workers, and had them acknowledge those policies as part of their orientation.
"The two individuals in question were among these workers," Byland said.
He said there were a number of occasions where the two individuals did not follow the policies and guidelines that had been set out.
B.C.'s Ministry of Agriculture requires temporary foreign workers to self-isolate in government-managed accommodations for 14 days prior to heading to farms.
Of the 4,000 temporary foreign workers that have arrived in B.C. since mid-April, 36 have tested positive for COVID-19.
Earlier this year, 23 workers at Bylands Nursery tested positive for COVID-19, and a community outbreak was declared. On May 11, about six weeks later, the outbreak was declared over.
"During that time, and since then, we have followed the most current guidelines from the provincial Public Health Order (PHO) for Agriculture, and we have established policies for guest workers relating to their accommodation and work practices to protect from further transmission," said Byland.
However, B.C.'s Ministry of Health told CBC that temporary foreign workers would not be prohibited from leaving a farm unless an active outbreak was occurring and public health had issued an order specifically directing them to isolate.
Cohen said on the day she went to the farm to drop supplies off to the two workers who were fired, there wasn't an outbreak.
Is this legal?
Immigration lawyer Sandra Hakanson said that without details of the policies, it's hard to say whether or not the treatment of these employees is illegal.
If it does in fact only apply to temporary foreign workers, that's problematic.
"It seems to fly in the face of our charter rights of the freedom of mobility," Hakanson said.
"An employer doesn't have the right to restrict your movement unless they've all agreed on this policy and you know what that policy is going in, and there's some reason in place that they don't want you leaving the grounds."
She also said that if a policy keeping people on site is in place, it must apply to all workers, not just a select group.
"Let's say everybody with brown hair has the right to leave and everybody with blond hair has to stay on the grounds — you can't do that."
Cohen said RAMA is seeking legal advice and has written to B.C.'s human rights commissioner, and the individuals who were fired are meeting with the human rights commissioner in Mexico City.
"As far as I can tell, not being a human rights expert, if there is a restriction of some workers due to their nationality, then to me that's a very clear infringement of their human rights," Cohen said.