Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

3rd Session, 40th Parliament,
Volume 147, Issue 67

Thursday, November 18, 2010
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

Migrant Agricultural Workers

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I rise before you today to speak about the rights of Canada’s temporary migrant workers. This past September, I visited an agricultural workers support centre in Surrey, British Columbia, where support is provided to migrant workers who come to work in Canada under temporary work visas. Unfortunately, most of these temporary migrant workers suffer in silence, which is why I am compelled to rise today and give them a voice.

During my visit at the centre, I heard numerous stories of mistreatment by employers. One story in particular stood out for me. This story is about a Mexican man named Benigno who works on a farm in British Columbia.

Benigno was tasked with emptying up to 10 25-kilogram sacks of pesticide powder into the hose irrigation system for almost five hours a day, without any safety equipment or training. This was a job reserved for supervisors who were equipped with the appropriate safety respirators and training.

This prolonged, constant and unprotected exposure to toxic chemicals has had significant respiratory health implications for Benigno. When he was sent to the doctor by the employer’s liaison, who also acted as a translator, he communicated that he was having difficulty breathing. Not surprisingly, the incident was filed as a private visit and completely unrelated to his work duties. He was prescribed two types of inhalers and was sent on his way.

After enduring this dangerous work for a few more months, he returned to Mexico and once again reported to the Mexican doctor in charge of assessing whether he was fit to return to the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program. The doctor informed him that he should no longer work because his lungs were so compromised by the pesticide that he could not continue to meet the physical demands required of a farm worker.

Benigno had no choice; he had to continue working. He had originally come to Canada to find a way to support his family and he wanted to continue working in Canada. Benigno continued to work and he suffered until he was not able to walk anymore.

Honourable senators, hundreds of thousands of workers like Benigno come to Canada each year with temporary work visas. These workers contribute significantly to the Canadian agricultural industry. We eat better and cheaper fruits and vegetables because of their work.

Honourable senators, the temporary farm workers are an important part of our great country. We need to hear their voices.