Abuse of Migrant Workers in the Food Processing Sector

In December 2018, TML Weekly spoke with a trade union organizer about what monopolies in the food processing sector are doing with the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP).

He said that federal regulations limit the number of foreign workers to 10 per cent of the workforce in a given plant, a cap set by the Harper government.

He explained that monopolies in the food processing sector use the TFWP in different ways. They develop business links within the federal and provincial government at several levels related to the program to establish, among other things, which country is favoured for a particular type of employment. For example, he explained that to find truck drivers to work in Quebec, France is a first option because the workforce is trained and the workers come from a developed country and are familiar with modern production. This is what monopolies are looking for because the workers require only a minimum of training and are ready to produce quickly. The relationship with France is not the same as with a developing country.

Once the links are made, the monopoly can go through recruitment agencies, which he outright calls human smugglers. He considers this practice a form of modern slave trading. These smugglers deal with a monopoly's offices in a particular country to provide workers.

However, he explained, a monopoly typically establishes its own networks of contacts and does its own interviews, hiring directly, without going through agencies. In this process, there would be several selections of candidates to come to Canada. Criteria for selecting workers are not spelled out, he said, but they are often linked to the racist policies of the country in question. For example, Jamaica will send more Haitian Jamaicans than so-called old-stock Jamaicans. The criteria will depend on the country and its conditions. When the selection is made, the contracts are signed and the workers are divided among the various factories of the monopoly. Generally speaking, the contract is a two-year contract, but there may be exceptions, he said.

He added that monopolies in this sector are lobbying governments to lighten and deregulate the TFWP because it serves them well.

He explained that after a worker completes his or her contract and returns to their country, if they are later rehired by the company, they start from scratch without any seniority, including wages. There may also be provisions that permit a monopoly to lay off foreign workers if it longer needs them, no matter the reason, whereupon they would be subject to deportation.

He recounted some horror stories in which foreign workers are outright scammed. A stipulation of TFWP is that before the workers arrive in Canada, the monopoly must guarantee they have a place to stay. Unscrupulous companies often house workers in their own buildings and charge them very high rent, forcing many workers to live together in a single place. Unions have filed grievances against this, but without success. He concluded by saying that much more needs to be made known about the conditions in which so-called foreign workers are forced to live and work.

This article was published in

Volume 49 Number 16 - May 4, 2019

Article Link:
Abuse of Migrant Workers in the Food Processing Sector


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