Challenges laborers to be apart of the agricultural industry

Challenges faced by Migrant Workers in the Agricultural industry of

Ashley Medeiros

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The systematic
exploitation of migrant workers has been inherent in our community for years as
it became embedded into our society and economy. Canada has been known for
bringing in more and more workers only on a temporary basis, with fewer rights,
limited access to services and no access to federally-funded settlement
services. Migrant workers are typically known to be vulnerable workers since
there is no systematic monitoring to ensure their rights are protected. Many
are economically exploited, being subjected to wage theft and their visa
conditions often make them dependent on their employers for such things as
housing, access to healthcare and access to basic information about their
rights. Through these disadvantages, migrant workers are limited to certain
resources which makes it difficult for them to have a comfortable lifestyle. Throughout
this paper, I will be addressing issues relating to emigration/immigration
within Canada based on inherent exploitation of migrant workers within the
agriculture industry with the use of relevant literature.

Migrant workers
face many challenges associated with current migration patterns which include
abuse, exploitation, poor integration and lack of credible migration policies. Preibisch
(2010) argues the concept of migrants within the agricultural labor market is
problematic since the domestic workforce includes internal migrants from
economically disadvantaged regions and socially marginalized groups.  Through this, the government has aided with
attracting migrant workers over since 1868, to be a part of the agricultural
industry. An example of this was when the government assisted the settlement of
British orphans to work on Canadian farms to benefit capital accumulation
(Preibisch, 2010:405).  Their recruitment
included sources of low skill laborers to be apart of the agricultural industry
where higher skilled laborers had the benefit of having a likely chance of
permanent residency and opportunity to apply for citizenship. The programs the
government provided included ‘forced rotation’ meaning migrants need to retain
their eligibility for authorizations and must return their countries at the end
of their contracts (Preibisch, 2010:412). In correlation to this, Preibisch
(2010) states most migrant farm workers are housed on their employer’s property
and the loss of work is accompanied with the loss of residence. Rates of forced
return remain low due to the fact that the workers are treated unfairly however
the threat of repatriation has become an effective mechanism of control over
the migrant workers (Preibisch 2010:415). Further, Preibisch (2010) claims the
work permits the migrants receive are strict and employer-specific in the sense
that they are only legally allowed to work for the person they are assigned to.

These programs that are designed for the migrants prevent settlement and do not
contain policies for families or permanent residency. This is problematic
because migrants are working at low wages and do not have protected rights that
reassure them that they have a chance for residency nor their families do. Due
to the lack of opportunity, migrants are not allowed to apply for citizenship
which results in exploitation as they have to settle with employment that they
getting paid low wages without any benefits. Preibisch (2010) demonstrates
three approaches that work towards maximizing profit: (1) appropriation: works
to extract values from others, (2) valorization: enhancing the value of others
within industrialization, and (3) intensification: creating value by efforts to
advance (p.406).  These approaches are
prevalent within the agricultural industry in Canada to maximize profit while
exploiting their workers at the same time. A 2004 Survey of wage rates paid to
nursery and harvesting laborers found foreign workers earning CAD $0.96 per
hour less than domestic workers (Preibisch 2010: Statistics Canada 2004:414).

Due to wages being lower for migrant workers, the only way for workers to
increase their earnings is by agreeing to working longer hours which includes
the continuation of exploitation. These housing arrangements provide control to
employers as it affects the worker’s behavior and including the restrictions
for the workers mobility on the farm. Another policy that contributes to
discriminating and disadvantaging migrant workers is the ability that allows
employers to choose the nationality and sex of their migrant workers which
results in various forms of gendered and racialized divisions among the workers
(Preibisch 2010). This is an unfair policy as it favours certain races and
genders. The availability of migrant workers has greatly influenced the supply
of labor force as they are an asset in the agricultural industry which provides
the country and government accumulation of profit. Preibisch (2010) illustrates
the various forms of exploitation within the agricultural industry that are
received from employer’s and the policy programs that disadvantage the migrant
workers but benefit the employers and the country.

have been many problems identified with temporary migration programs, health
care and the work environment within the agricultural industry in Canada.

Preibisch and Otero (2014) argue the importance of citizenship as it affects
worker’s lives in regards to their health in the workplace and their safety.

Migrant workers are subjected to coercive forms of labor discipline and lack of
social protection, especially low-skilled workers that are associated with poor
working conditions and low wages (Preibisch & Otero, 2014). Farm labour
tends to not involve contracts and work schedules on many farms include
insignificant seasonal variation and hours that are consistent. Further, their
wages vary between an hourly wage or piecework with very few salaried full-time
positions (Preibisch & Otero, 2014). This is problematic for migrant
workers as they do not have secure employment and may only work seasonal
positions with low wages creating issues when finding employment afterwards.

Preibisch and Otero (2014) claim that benefits are scarce or nonexistent in
British Columbia and farmworkers lack overtime pay or do not get paid statutory
holidays and annual vacation. These are forms of exploitation within the
agricultural industry in Canada as employers overwork these migrant workers who
do not get paid for the extra work they do. Further, Agriculture is known to be
Canada’s most precarious job sectors and most dangerous as the occupation is
injury prone and have higher serious injury rate than other industries
(Preibisch & Otero, 2014:179). To support this claim, Preibisch and Otero
(2014) state the workplace consists of many health risks to migrant workers as
the workers are exposed to agrochemicals, soil, insects, sun, climate extremes,
hazards posed by machines and confined spaces. These risk factors contribute to
present acute problems and long-term disabilities for migrant workers. In 2008,
three workers in at a British Columbia mushroom farm were killed and two were
left with severe brain damage after being exposed to toxic gas in a composing
shed (Preibisch & Otero, 2014:CBC news, 2012). Many migrant workers that
are hired, particularly on the farm, are known to use unsafe vehicles and are
careless, untrained licensed drivers (Preibisch & Otero, 2014). These
farmworkers contribute to major traffic accidents that result in death of
farmworkers. Further, another health risk factor is the poor living conditions
of rural housing that supply poor hygiene and sanitary conditions for migrant
workers. All of these risks contribute to work-related health issues among
immigrant and migrant workers that range from infectious diseases to mental
diseases. Although migrant workers struggle with addressing their health
concerns as they have no access to health services and lack legal protection
and health insurance coverage (Preibisch & Otero, 2014:180). Language
barriers also are a barrier that compromises access to treatment as majority of
the workers can not speak proper English. Preibisch & Otero (2014)
illustrate that farmworkers tend to refrain from using health services or not
report work-related incidents and illnesses to employers to protect their
employment and immigration status. Because of this, if employers are aware of
these illnesses and incidents, they will make the workers refrain themselves
from working and replace them with other workers which is an issue as the
injured migrant would not be compensated with money. Moreover, Preibisch &
Otero (2014) further argue that unauthorized status is associated with negative
employment outcomes. Without legal status, it is almost inevitable that migrant
workers will be exposed to improper working conditions, exploitation and health
risks. In contrast, workers with a legal status have a better chance of finding
employment with improved working conditions and access to health care.

admission of low-skilled migrant workers channel a large part of irregular
migration that allows them to be exploited and violated. Wickramasekara (2008)
addresses wide ranging issues regarding irregular migration flows, migrant
rights and development benefits of migration that is inherent in the labour
market. Today’s immigration policies place barriers on migration for
low-skilled workers in the sense that they receive short-term work for low
wages. An effect on migration policies is to reduce the poverty impact on
migration due to the fact many low-skilled migrants come from poor families and
countries (Wickramasekara, 2008). Businesses with low-skilled labour attempt to
survive on cheap labour, avoiding social protection and rely on migrant
workers, essentially exploiting them. Wickramasekara (2008) argues that
irregular migration poses issues for countries and migrant workers themselves
as it creates a protection problem, as migrant workers become vulnerable to
violations of human rights and labour rights. Migrants face these issues when
they are transported and employed in defiance when it is out of their control.

Further, when there are large migrant populations with irregular status, it
tends to undermine the credibility of legal migration programmes which later
causes issues for migrants who want to apply for a legal status (Wickamasekara,
2008). Many countries fail to realize that many migrants with an irregular
status also have fundamental rights as human beings and as well as workers but
still face discrimination and workplace issues. Moreover, these working
industries view migrants as commodities rather than persons with rights that
are afforded to them through international human rights framework
(Wickamasekara, 2008:1258). This has been an extensive problem globally due to
the fact that global governance of international migrations policies do not
address major issues regarding migrants rights within the labour market or
minimising the negative consequences regarding protection of all migrant

three of these articles demonstrate the challenges and problematic issues
migrants face within the working industry. Each article illustrates the forms
of exploitation migrants experience in the working sector that affects
different aspects in their lives. “Does Citizenship Status Matter in Canadian Agriculture”
and “Pick-Your-Own-Labour” both address the issues migrant face within the
agricultural industry in Canada. Some on the challenges that were explained
within both of these articles were the health risks that migrants are exposed
to, poor living conditions, low wages, unsafe working conditions and lack of
secure employment. An important factor in these working regulations is the role
the government plays. Policies are created through the government which acquire
‘forced rotation’ meaning migrants must return to their countries at the end of
their working contracts. This is problematic for migrants who want to apply for
a legal status in Canada but are prevented from doing so due to the working
contracts and legislations. Further, the agricultural industry exploits
migrants through low wages and the high risk of health problems within the
working environment. Migrants are exposed to harmful chemicals and hazards
posed by machinery. Further, migrants live on the employers property where they
are provided low quality housing that is unsanitary that also contributes to
the health risks.  Many migrants face
many barriers when it comes to health risks due to the fact that they do not
have health insurance or access to health services. Further, the language
barrier is a barrier as well as it becomes challenging for them to explain
their health issues to doctors or others. Although, many migrants do not report
their illnesses or workplace incidents due to the fact they are fearful of
losing their jobs. Most migrants are on working contracts and are not fully
secured with employment. These workers are fearful of reporting to their
employers and eventually losing their job and later being deported. The
migrants who are employed in Canada are exploited through wages and working
long hours that they are not being paid extra for. They also are only allowed
to work for one employer and that disadvantages them from making a dual income
considering the fact they make very low wages. Similarly, Wickramasekra (2008)
illustrates the exploitation within low-skill sectors that disadvantage migrant
workers through  global governance of
international migrations policies. She argues that they fail to meet the
expectations of migrants based on the fact that migrants are treated as
commodities rather than human beings and workers. Further, Wickramasekra (2008)
explains how businesses with low-skilled labour attempt to survive on cheap
labour, avoiding protecting the rights of migrant workers and essentially only
focusing on the profit they are receiving rather than the worker’s well-being.

This article correlates with “Does Citizenship Status Matter in Canadian
Agriculture” and “Pick-Your-Own-Labour” as they all focus on the exploitation
migrants face making it difficult for them to receive citizenship as they
experience many barriers for being a migrant.

conclusion, temporary migrant workers tend to be vulnerable to exploitation,
especially in the agricultural industry. It is inevitable that migrant workers
are subjected to abuse and exploitation even when having a working visa.

Working visas restrict migrants to only working with one employer and not
having much freedom to choose what type of employment they receive. Migrants
come from all different countries to seek employment and in hopes of having a
better life but end up working in industries that pay them low wages where they
are exposed to harmful working conditions and unsanitary living conditions as
well. Global importance of migration is essential and necessary to sustain
economic growth and the treatment they receive is unfair. Migrant is also
important for the transfer of skills and provides to knowledge and innovation
for global growth.























Preibisch, K. (2010), Pick-Your-Own Labor: Migrant Workers and
Flexibility in Canadian             Agriculture1. International
Migration Review, 44: 404–441.


Preibisch, K., & Otero, G. (2014). Does Citizenship Status
Matter in Canadian Agriculture?           Workplace
Health and Safety for Migrant and Immigrant Laborers. Rural Sociology,            79(2), 174-199.


Wickramasekara, P. (2008). Globalisation, International Labour
Migration and the Rights of           Migrant
Workers. Third World Quarterly, 29(7), 1247-1264.