CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. — Earlier than Gabriel Allahdua got here to P.E.I. on Oct. 29, he had already been in contact with migrant employees within the province who shared distressing tales about poor working situations.
This was not new to Allahdua, who’s a former migrant employee himself. He not too long ago co-authored a e-book entitled “Harvesting Freedom,” which particulars the experiences and challenges confronted by migrant farm employees in Canada.
Now a powerful advocate for the rights of migrant employees, Allahdua got here to P.E.I. on Oct. 29 as a speaker at an occasion hosted by the Cooper Institute, specializing in migrant employee points in P.E.I.
Allahdua remembers some employees in Prince Edward Island have been telling him about conditions the place they needed to work in fields whereas pesticides have been being sprayed close by.
“They witnessed individuals collapsing,” he advised SaltWire on the occasion. “The concern of talking up could be very, very actual. In P.E.I., so many employees hold calling me … in regards to the tough working situations.”
Some employees additionally advised him about their experiences of working within the area “for the entire day on their knees” with none breaks.
“On the world stage, Canada says it is a champion for human rights. Canada boasts itself as essentially the most various and multicultural however in reality, and actually, we aren’t.” – Gabriel Allahdua
Moreover, they described the problem of transferring from one area to a different as a part of their each day duties, typically having to position their lunches on the bottom as a result of there’s no lunch desk round, Allahdua stated.
“And after they come for lunch, there are many ants and bugs of their lunchbox. They’ve to sit down on the bottom, whether or not it’s raining or not.”
Afraid to talk up
The agriculture and agri-food sectors in P.E.I. have recruited extra momentary international employees in recent times. In 2017, there have been 865 migrant employees in these sectors, and by 2022, that quantity had nearly doubled to over 1,500, in accordance with Statistics Canada.
Allahdua stated the problems he is heard in P.E.I. usually are not distinctive as many migrant employees throughout Canada face comparable challenges.
Nevertheless, their standing in Canada, typically tied to a selected employer by way of a closed work allow, makes them susceptible to exploitation and mistreatment and afraid of being despatched again residence in the event that they converse up.
“So, principally, it’s exploitation. Each our residing and dealing situations are very tough. That’s why I selected to be an activist – to battle again and create higher situations,” he stated, including he has been advocating for open work permits for all migrant employees.
Migrant employees additionally haven’t got the identical safety from labour legal guidelines and requirements as native employees, Allahdua stated.
“On the world stage, Canada says it is a champion for human rights. Canada boasts itself as essentially the most various and multicultural however in reality, and actually, and we aren’t. Some individuals are extra privileged than others. And it isn’t as equal a society appropriately.”
‘An unfair hole’
Ryan MacRae, who’s the migrant employee program co-ordinator on the Cooper Institute, has heard firsthand from migrant employees in P.E.I. about their struggles.
For example, some fish plant employees do not get the promised 40 hours of labor per week throughout gradual seasons.
“They nonetheless have bills to pay. They’re typically coming right here in debt to a recruiter. And so they additionally have to pay cash to their households again residence. So that they’re really shedding cash whereas they’re right here through the gradual components of the season,” he stated.
There are different issues as effectively, comparable to crowded housing situations and restricted entry to well being care. These employees additionally haven’t got entry to authorities companies they contribute to, like employment insurance coverage, MacRae stated.
“It is an unfair hole the place they’re paying right into a service that they do not have entry to.”
Again in 2021, researchers from the Cooper Institute, Dalhousie College, and St. Thomas College performed interviews with 15 migrant employees who had arrived in P.E.I.
The results of their investigation was a report that outlined the difficulties these employees confronted, comparable to overcrowded residing situations. The report additionally identified some employers’ “unscrupulous” practices, comparable to withholding contracts from workers, which made the employees hesitant to talk up for concern of getting their contracts revoked or being deported.
When requested about whether or not these points have improved over the previous two years, MacRae stated not a lot has modified since that report.
“Sadly, it has been the identical issues that we have seen,” he stated.
MacRae hopes that the Sunday occasion may elevate consciousness about these points and provides the general public an opportunity to listen to immediately from migrant employees in regards to the challenges they’re dealing with.
Thinh Nguyen is a reporter with SaltWire in Prince Edward Island. He could be reached by e mail at [email protected] and adopted on X @thinhnguyen4291.