Editorial by The Toronto Star
For most Canadians, the image of exploited labourers toiling in fields of drug crops recalls the seamy side of Afghanistan and Southeast Asia.
But it could apply to some medical marijuana farm workers right here in Ontario, Canada’s biggest employer of migrant labour. They’re among the thousands who enter Canada under the Temporary Foreign Worker and Seasonal Agricultural Worker programs, arriving with “closed” work permits that tie them to one employer and force them to return to their countries after four years at most, with no possibility of permanent-resident status.
About 30 of these workers are now cultivating the licensed medical marijuana that has put Canada among the most progressive countries on this issue. The market, along with its labour force, is due to explode once recreational use of marijuana becomes legal.
But the conditions for the pot producers are anything but progressive. “They cannot withhold their labour,” writes Chris Grisdale, an Osgoode Hall law graduate who has studied migrant rights. “Employers do not have to bargain in good faith. Complaints of unfair labour practices must be brought to a tribunal, which lacks labour-relations expertise.” Nor are workers covered by Ontario’s Labour Relations Act.
The province has laws aimed at protecting low-skilled temporary workers. It is illegal for recruiters to charge them fees and for employers to claw back recruitment costs from their pay or to confiscate their passports and documents. Bosses must provide information about workers’ employment rights.