Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 5, 2008
Migrant workers need ombudsman - bishops
By Catholic News Service
“These workers, isolated both physically an linguistically, are extremely vulnerable.”
- Quebec bishops
"Without these seasonal workers, many Quebec farmers would not be able to continue their commercial activities," they said.The bishops noted how officers from the Mexican and Guatemalan consulates are responsible for ensuring that workers have adequate working conditions, but are pressured to place as many workers on farms as possible.
The bishops proposed the appointment of an ombudsman who would be independent, accessible to workers, would be able to carry out swift and efficient enquiries and would make recommendations for the resolution of conflicts.
The seasonal workers are authorized to come to Quebec on the basis of a 1974 Canadian-Mexican agreement that provides Quebec farms with a low-cost labour force and Mexican workers with a seasonal income.
The Quebec farmers and the Canadian and Mexican governments agree upon the working conditions and salaries, but the workers are absent from these negotiations, the bishops said.
They expressed concern about the isolation the workers face. Workers live on the farms, often in remote areas, without transportation other than a bicycle or weekly bus trip to local supermarkets or to go to Mass.
A significant number of workers give up on the program, returning home early, disoriented and homesick.
Migrant workers sometimes are dependent on the employer for contact with the outside world.
Although workers are given a card with the telephone number and address of their consulate, in some cases they only have access to the employers' telephone. The workers also have basic medical insurance, but in some cases can be taken to see a doctor only with the cooperation of the employer.
"These workers, isolated both physically and linguistically, are extremely vulnerable as regards threats and intimidation in their workplace but also in the communities that host them."
Some workers have been sent home early without full payment because they spoke out about their poor working conditions, they said.
"We have to guarantee these workers the exercise of their rights in all equality and with respect for human dignity."
The bishops also encouraged Catholics to make a special effort to welcome the seasonal workers by inviting them to Sunday Mass and visiting them on the farms where they work.
"We also invite Christian communities to fraternally accompany the workers in their journey of faith, helping their stay in Quebec to be one lived out in justice and dignity," said the bishops.
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