Leamington celebrates first Migrant Worker Day in appreciation of thousands of workers

A live band entertains the crowd at Leamington's Seacliff Park for the region's first Migrant Worker Day Festival. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC - image credit)
A live band entertains the crowd at Leamington's Seacliff Park for the region's first Migrant Worker Day Festival. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC - image credit)

The smell of Jamaican and Mexican cuisine wafted through the air in Leamington's Seacliff Park on Sunday as a local band played live music to celebrate the region's first ever Migrant Worker Day.

In appreciation of the thousands of migrant workers that come from abroad to work in southwestern Ontario's agriculture industry, the region celebrated the workers with sounds and smells from their hometowns.

While Sunday marked the first time this day has been recognized, the municipality of Leamington announced that going forward Migrant Worker Day will be annually celebrated on the first Sunday of summer.

"This event, Migrant Workers Day festival, is a reconnection with their culture, with their food, with their music, with something that they need in Canada," said Francy Munoz, who helped organize the event.

Munoz works at the Windsor-Essex Bilingual Legal clinic and she is also a lead on the C. A. R. E. for International Workers Program.

Jennifer La Grassa/CBC
Jennifer La Grassa/CBC

"Sometimes [the workers] feel isolated, specifically after COVID, it has been a hard time for them, so now after COVID it's a pleasure for us to have this kind of event offered to them," Munoz said.

About 1,200 workers showed up to enjoy the festivities throughout the day, according to Munoz.

"This is amazing. For them, they feel 'My country is in Canada,' they feel another representation of my country here and 'Canada is offering me some part of my country.' You can't believe it, but this is really really amazing for them and for us," she said.

Adelaida Bishop brought her catering services to the event, where she cooked traditional Filipino food for workers to give them a taste of home.

"It means really a lot to me because every culture, every nationality, they always want to eat something like from their home, their country, so when I cook something like for example the lumpia, the spring rolls, it brings back the memory from where we're from, so that's why it really means a lot to me," said Bishop, adding that cooking for the workers and watching them eat her food was an "overwhelming" experience.

Jennifer La Grassa/CBC
Jennifer La Grassa/CBC

Canadian union recommends changes for migrant workers 

Every year, between 8,000 and 10,000 migrant workers come to Windsor-Essex to work in on farms or in greenhouses.

On Sunday, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) released its annual report on migrant farm workers. The 2022 report lists 20 "urgently required" recommendations to improve the working environment.

Of these recommendations, 12 are directed to federal leaders and eight are aimed at specific provinces.

Some recommendations include:

  • End virtual housing inspections and require in-person inspections before and during occupancy.

  • End employer-specific work permits and replace them with open work permits or occupation-specific work permits.

  • Allow workers to form unions.

  • Hold employers to account and enforce consequences when Temporary Foreign Worker program rules are violated.

Jennifer La Grassa/CBC
Jennifer La Grassa/CBC

"Unfortunately, our union has seen the treatment of migrant workers throughout the existence of Temporary Foreign Worker programs as almost Canada's dirty secret, a current secret that we don't really like to acknowledge  said Pablo Godoy, who was at the Migrant Worker Day festival.

"People that are working on the fields, literally picking, packaging, and processing the food that Canadians eat and consume every single day are often on the fringes, working in dirty, dangerous conditions and are often being neglected legally and legislated out of protections that should belong to everybody else."

Godoy said they continue to push provincial and federal governments on improving the living and working situation for workers.

He said they are also building connections with leaders from the countries that send workers to ensure they are aware of the conditions people might encounter.

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