Migrant Workers 'Invisible'

By Zacharias, Bethany; Thorsteinsson, Amanda | Winnipeg Free Press, January 5, 2013 | Go to article overview
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Migrant Workers 'Invisible'

Zacharias, Bethany, Thorsteinsson, Amanda, Winnipeg Free Press

WCB doesn't track injuries by nationality

Saying goodbye to two young children and leaving to work in a foreign country for six months isn't something most Canadians have to do.

Explaining to your spouse and children that as much as you'd love for them to join you, strict immigration laws ensure they probably never will, is also something most Canadians avoid.

This is the reality migrant farm worker 44-year-old Luis Galvain faces each year.

"It was difficult at the beginning," said Galvain, who is from the Mexican state of Guanajuato. "For me, it's a need. There's no choice."

Galvain was one of the 24,000 migrant farm workers who came to Canada in 2011. He initially heard about the opportunity to work in Canada through his brother. He travels to Portage la Prairie every year as a temporary foreign worker under the seasonal agricultural worker program, which matches workers from Mexico and Caribbean countries with Canadian farmers who need temporary help during planting and harvesting when qualified Canadians or permanent residents are not available.

Peak of the Market president Larry McIntosh said migrant farm workers play a vital role in ensuring the availability of Manitoba-grown produce and do jobs Canadian workers won't.

"Many summer crops like cucumbers, cabbage, asparagus and broccoli wouldn't be grown in Manitoba if it weren't for the migrant farm workers," McIntosh said.

Gustavo Mejicanos from the Agricultural Workers Alliance in Manitoba said migrant farm workers in the province are all men.

Mejicanos also said the men are depend on the goodwill of their employers to return each year and their job in Manitoba is not guaranteed.

Unlike many migrant farm workers who pick vegetables during harvest, Galvain also works at a tree nursery just outside Portage la Prairie. Galvain's employer, Jeffries Nurseries Ltd.

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