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Migrant farmworkers want feds to act on better employer-provided housing: report

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    SASKATOON, Saskatchewan (CTV Network) — Migrant farmworkers say there’s a lack of privacy and hygienic conditions in employer-based housing, and they’re calling on the government to be quicker about its commitment last year to implement stronger national standards, according to an advocacy group’s report.

The Migrant Rights Network report released on Thursday — comprising testimonies, surveys, and photographs from 453 migrant farmworkers — describes a litany of issues in employer-provided housing. These include overcrowding in bedrooms and shared spaces, little to no private spaces, a lack of clean drinking water, unsanitary conditions in bathrooms and showers and even pest infestations.

“We are all humans but some employers treat us like objects,” said one of unnamed migrant workers quoted in the report. “We have no indoor bathroom. We have to use a portable toilet outside or pee in a bottle. No internet or television… We want decent houses, not stables.”

Many lamented not having any private space to spend with family or friends, with one worker saying they wanted “less interference of the employer in the house, because he decides who can come in.”

Syed Hussan, Migrant Rights Network secretariat, told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview “as you can see, what workers are asking for is the bare minimum… the most mundane and banal and basic things.”

The crux of the issue laid out in the report is the lack of enforceable national housing standards for an aspect of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, where employers provide proper accommodations to their migrant farmworkers. In March, Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) said it was still reviewing consultations it began in October.

Hussan said the fact that farmer workers are still demanding the basics shows they’re being exploited.

In the report, when it came to employer-provided housing, 51 per cent of the respondents said the lack of privacy was their biggest concern. Two out of five workers called for more space, including for storage to keep dirty work clothes away from cooking and resting areas.

One out of three respondents wanted a higher quality of life, including having laundry, kitchen, shower and bathroom facilities under one roof, as well as having homes closer to grocery stores, remittance services and health facilities.

Overall, a quarter of respondents said they simply wanted more control over their lives, such as the ability to choose when they want to be alone or not, which is difficult with little to no privacy in communal housing, according to the Migrant Rights Network report.

Other advocates in the past have outlined how the COVID-19 pandemic has exasperated migrant workers’ precarious situations, in that they worry if they complain, bosses will fire them and they’ll lose their ability to stay in Canada.

“At the end of the day, the reason we have to have special rules for farmworkers’ housing is because migrant farmworkers are excluded from rights and protections all of us [Canadian citizens] have,” Hussan said.

GOV’T EFFORTS TOO SLOW: ADVOCATES

When employers apply to be in the government’s Primary Agriculture Stream program, they must outline the accommodations they’ll provide workers, and have that housing inspected beforehand by provincial or territorial bodies, or approved private inspectors.

But there is no minimum national standard for employer-provided accommodations, according to Employment and Social Development Canada, so consultations began in October to enact those standards.

A press release from March pledged a tip line and pilot project to conduct more in-depth inspections of employers at higher risk of not living up their program applications. But the government stated then that “input received through this consultation is currently being reviewed, and will inform the Government’s actions in the coming months.”

Hussan said “there is no time to wait” because even if the government announced housing standards tomorrow, he said employers will likely call for more funding or time to implement standards. And he also pointed out that the implementation of an enforcement regime will need to be set up too.

And he said these steps will only prolong the precarious situations of farmworkers. Instead, Hussan advocated granting permanent residence status for all migrant and undocumented people.

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ctvnews.caproducers@bellmedia.ca

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