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Most of them have not seen their children or their wives in months since they have left Latin America to work in greenhouses, fields or tree nurseries as part of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) or Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP).
A strong concentration of Quebec’s migrant worker population – 4 000 to 8 000 this year according to estimations by the Agriculture Worker Alliance (AWA) staff – is located in the Montérégie Area. That’s why the Saint-Rémi support center for migrant workers organizes a father’s day gathering every year.
“Most workers are fathers,” said Julio Lara, organizer at the Saint-Rémi support centre. “We try to get them out of their day-to-day life.” Their daily routine basically consists in getting up at six in the morning and working 10 hours shifts, six days a week. “Sunday is practically their only day off,” Lara said. This year, around 100 workers showed up for the live music and the typical Latin American meal – rice, tortillas and grilled meat – offered by AWA.
Many only speak Spanish, which leaves them isolated from the mostly French-speaking population in the region. “We would like it if a little more people from Saint-Rémi came,” centre coordinator Marie-Jeanne Vandoorne said. “It would be ideal to connect more with the community.”
Most migrant workers are employed on big industrial farms, which recruit 60, 80, 100 or more foreign workers every year. On such big farms, there are no personal relationships between the employer and the workers. Last year, a worker died in a traffic accident. “The boss didn’t know who it was,” remembered Vandoorne, outraged.
Every year, migrant workers spend months in local soy and cornfields, in pig slaughterhouses. “Every thing we eat passes through their hands,” Vandoorne said. But when the season is over they have to go back to their countries. “Some have been coming for 30 years. Their work visas and the programs [the TFWP and SAWP] are designed to keep them from staying. It’s really unfair, but that’s how it is.”
In a phone interview last week, Patrick Juneau, communication officer at Union des producteur agricoles (UPA), had no comments to make about migrant workers. He referred us to René Mantha, director at Fondation des entreprises en recrutement de main-d’œuvre agricole étrangère (FERME), the organization responsible for recruiting foreign agriculture workers in Quebec. FERME had not returned our phone calls our e-mails before publication.