Gabriel’s Story: How the TFWP Impacts Canada’s Migrant Workers
When greenhouse employee Gabriel Allahdua was forced to live in a house with 62 other workers, he knew there was nothing he could do to criticize his conditions. Allahdua was a migrant worker from St. Lucia who had entered Canada under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). If he spoke out about this mistreatment, his boss might fire him. And as mandated by the TWFP, if Allahdua was fired, he’d be deported.
Allahdua’s experience is far from unique. Metcalf Innovation Fellow Fay Faraday has illustrated how such exploitation is embedded within the very structure of the TFWP in her series of comprehensive reports. 2012’s Made in Canada shows how labour and human rights violations are endemic under the TFWP due to its very structure, 2014’s Profiting from the Precarious exposes how migrant workers are paying thousands of dollars in recruiting fees to access minimum wage jobs in Canada, while 2016’s Canada’s Choice illustrates how changes made to the program in 2014 worsened the precarity faced by workers like Allahdua.
On September 19, 2016, the Parliamentary Committee that reviewed the TFWP tabled its report in Parliament, proposing 21 recommendations for change. Their report called for:
- eliminating work permits that tie migrant workers to a single employer;
- removing the rule that required migrant workers to leave Canada after four years’ labour; and
- further review to consider creating pathways to permanent residence for some migrant workers and to address gaps in employer compliance and protection of migrant workers’ rights.
At the same time, the report also made various recommendations to facilitate employer access to migrant labour, including expanding the scope of the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP).
“While the report has recognized longstanding calls to end tied permits and the 4-in/4-out rule,” says Faraday, “the recommendations that address key issues like access to permanent status, recruiter regulation, and rights enforcement are vague and are left for future review. Meanwhile, numerous report recommendations anticipate the expansion of temporary labour migration, including expanding the SAWP and other industry-specific migration programs.”
Allahdua is a member of Justice for Migrant Workers, a volunteer-run migrant worker advocacy organization. He shared his story with us shortly before the Parliamentary Committee’s report was tabled.
Gabriel allahdua’s Story
“In 2010, there was a hurricane in my country. At that time, I was doing five different things. I felt so confident that my income was diversified, that I could support myself. But the hurricane destroyed everything, the country’s whole economy, and I became unemployed with a family to support. That was the lowest part of my life. I had to leave my family, to look for work elsewhere.
A few friends told me to dress warm when I arrived in Canada. But I’m from St. Lucia, I had no idea what this meant. When I landed, I wasn’t dressed properly. The moment you step out of the airport, that’s when you understand what the cold is.
It was 11 o’ clock at night, in winter, and our bus from the airport had no heating. It was a four-hour drive to the farm. When we arrived, they hadn’t turned the furnace on yet in the room we were staying in. So we spent the night without heat.
In the house that I lived, there were 62 of us. The house had 8 rooms, so there was no privacy. We had just three stoves, with a handful of burners. I would wake up hours before the other men did, just so I could get a spot to prepare my food for the day. I worked over 60 hours a week, and I never received overtime. No one did, no matter how much they worked.
At the end of every week, a list was posted that ranked our productivity. Those workers at the top were given credits, and those at the bottom, the supervisor would come and talk to them, reminding them that ‘there’s 100 guys back where you came from, lining up to take your place.’
Nothing prepared me for the conditions that farm workers face in Canada. And from the moment I landed here, I always wanted an avenue to vent this. My colleagues at the greenhouse, and the workers at the other farms I visit, they want to get an opportunity to speak up for better conditions. But we are muzzled, we are silenced through the threat of deportation. That’s why the average Canadian doesn’t know that these conditions exist. And that’s why I’m so grateful to be a part of this campaign.”
Gabriel Allahdua is travelling with Justice for Migrant Workers for several stops of their Harvesting Freedom campaign. Beginning in Windsor on September 4, and concluding in Ottawa on October 3, the Harvesting Freedom Caravan will travel 1,500 kilometres across Ontario to call for reforms to the TFWP and ensure that the voices of migrant workers are included in the decision-making process. The Caravan will stop in Toronto for three events on September 25.
Justice for Migrant Workers is a member of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC), a network aimed at improving working conditions and achieving better protections for temporary foreign workers. With support from Metcalf, MWAC is currently partnering with the Ontario Employment Education and Research Centre to create mechanisms for migrant workers to build their leadership skills, meet with elected officials, and share their narratives with the general public.