Justicia for Migrant Workers wants to be heard as Ontario reviews labour laws
Ontario's Ministry of Labour is reviewing the provinces' labour laws, and a local advocacy group for migrant workers want their voices to be heard in the process, particularly those working in southwestern Ontario.
Windsor plays host Tuesday to two provincial advisors, looking for interviews from workers, unions and legal clinics about what they want changed in the current employment standards and labour relations acts.
"We want to highlight the issues that migrant workers face in Ontario, and what farm workers face while growing our food and taking care of our children," said Tzazna Miranda Leal, a spokesperson for advocacy group Justicia for Migrant Workers.
Just in Essex County, Leal said the organization estimates there are between six and 10,000 people who have temporary migrant worker permits, working on farms, in greenhouses and factories.
Leal said there is a glaring difference in rights workers have depending on the industry they're in.
"Agricultural workers don't have a by-law to receive minimum wage, they're not entitled to receive overtime pay when they work more than 44 hours a week, they're not entitled to holiday pay or even the same types of breaks everyone else is entitled to," she said. "We want fairness. We want all workers to have the same rights."
She adds that her organization wants farm workers to have the right to form unions. Right now, they're not entitled to that either, and are often risking their job and status in Canada if they speak up to employers.
Thelma Green, a farm worker from Jamaica, is familiar that scenario. She worked at an Essex County packing house for two years.
"We you stand up for your rights, [employers] will torment you, making work uncomfortable for you," she said. "So you're just afraid to speak out because you're afraid they will send you back home."
Green said on many occasions, she exceeded 44 works hours a week. She said her bosses told her to "forget about it."
As a result of speaking out, Green said she also had her status in Canada threatened.
"They said that if we continue to persist, they will just send us back home," she said. "Since we came here to work to make the lives better for our families, we just decided to forget about it."
According to Leal, at the moment, migrant workers like Green only have only very basic protection under the employment standards' act.
"It's not enough," she said. "It doesn't make sense, for example, a picker versus a packer to actually be entitled to different things because of where on the floor of a shop they work."
Tuesday's meetings happen at the Holiday Inn on Huron Church Road between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Anyone can submit comments to the ministry until Sept. 18.