Don’t eat Ontario food produced by migrant workers: activist

Change needed in working and living conditions of the seasonal workers, according to Justicia for Migrant Workers

Students at Centennial College
Juan Romero, Chris Ramsaroop (second from left), Mishaal Jamil, Jessica McDonald and Cheryldean Peters at Centennial College’s Story Arts Centre, April 10, 2017. (Toronto Observer photo)

A University of Toronto graduate student who fights for the rights of migrant workers in Canada believes there is a disconnect between the federal government and the foreign workers they welcome to produce the country’s food.

Chris Ramsaroop, currently studying for his PhD, is an activist working with Justicia For Migrant Workers, a volunteer run group that promotes the rights of migrant farmworkers participating in the Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program and the Low Skilled Workers Program, as well as farmworkers without status in Canada. Ramsaroop strongly believes something needs to change to improve working conditions of these workers in Canada.

“The federal laws and the provincial laws don’t work together. When a worker leaves a farm, they lose everything,” Ramsaroop said in an interview in April at Centennial College’s Story Arts Centre in Toronto.

Migrant workers from other countries come to Canada with hope. They often believe they are heading to a better life, explains Ramsaroop. This isn’t the case. From the moment they arrive, things tend to get worse and worse.

Ramsaroop has seen first-hand the obstacles that migrant workers in Canada have to deal with. He describes their working and living conditions as unacceptable. Despite this, migrant workers live in fear that if they stand up for themselves, they may end up worse off.

“Workers have withheld their labour to get masks to protect their eyes from chemicals, that has been successful,” Ramsaroop said. “There have been other workers who have protested [inadequate] housing and that was not successful, the workers got in trouble for that.”

Aside from the government, Ramsaroop also believes the Canadian media is at fault.

“In mainstream media, we position the arguments about migrant workers from a cost benefit analysis, where we look at the benefits to our Canadian economy,” he said. “However, the social costs to the workers and their families, no one ever talks about that.”

The fight for migrant workers is not without hope. Change is made slowly, Ramsaroop acknowledges. He believes Canadians should take a principled stand and refuse to buy or eat food, and other products, that have been produced at the cost of migrant worker’s human rights.

His group works to help migrant workers feel empowered, which he feels is the best way to push for change.

“It’s not about Chris Ramsaroop coming in to save workers, it’s about talking to workers about building power among themselves.”