Union sounds alarm after foreign workers fired

Posted by admin on Dec 6th, 2008

December 06, 2008. Jaspreet Tambar. Toronto Star

Scores of foreign agriculture workers who successfully fought for the right to form a union were fired today and will be sent back home in the near future. Although Rol-Land Farms, which employed the 70 workers from Mexico, Jamaica and Guatemala refused to discuss the development, union officials were not to reluctant. “We cannot tolerate such treatment of workers in this country. We can’t allow the expansion of programs that create second class residents and workers,” says Wayne Hanley, the National President of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW).

The workers are in Canada on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and have been evicted from the housing provided to them by Rol-Land Farms, which produces mushrooms and has facilities across Canada and the U.S..

Hanley adds that the Temporary Foreign Workers Program has been constructed so as to allow employers to have complete power over workers.

The fired workers had only been working for Rol-Land Farms for periods ranging from four to eight months, though the Temporary Foreign Workers Program issues them work visas for two years.

On Nov. 17, the UFCW gained a landmark victory in winning the right for agriculture workers to unionize, a push started by workers at a Rol-Land Farms facility. Workers complained about labouring for low wages in dangerous and filthy conditions.

The operation just outside Guelph from which the workers were fired, however, did not unionize.

The workers were given the ultimatum of either taking a paid plane-ticket back to their homes or staying back and being caught in the limbo of having no place to stay and no money to fly back home on their own.

Stan Raper, the Agriculture Workers Program Coordinator for UFCW, says that current economic conditions may be a factor in the redundancies, but that Rol-Land Farms shifts its workers on a regular basis to bring in workers from other countries.

“It’s a way to try to get workers to compete among themselves and with other countries that are trying to secure contracts to bring workers into Canada,” he says. “It creates an unstable environment and fosters intense competition for a low-wage job with dire conditions.”

Many of the fired workers have already been repatriated, but the few that have stayed back have been temporarily accommodated by the efforts of the UFCW. They plan to address the public with their lamentations on Monday.

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