Migrant farm workers celebrate Father's Day far from families
A group of migrant farm workers braved the rain Sunday to mark a bittersweet Father's Day huddled under a tent in Surrey, B.C. far from their families back home in Latin America.
The barbecue was organized by Migrant Workers' Dignity Association, an organization that helps migrant farm workers by providing translation and transportation to doctor's appointments.
"They miss their families. Days like today, Father's Day, are very important," said Gil Aguilar, the organization's president.
All the men, most of them fathers, are in Canada under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, part of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. The SAWP brings in 30,000 farm workers annually from certain partner nations who grow and harvest food Canadians eat. Workers typically come for a period of between eight months and two years.
One worker said he has a son and two daughters back home in Mexico. Although he's incredibly far away from his family while working on a farm in the Lower Mainland, he said he appreciated celebrating the day by getting together with other fathers in the same situation.
"It's an opportunity to meet friends, and also forget a little bit about the sadness and that you're far away," he said. "Rather than be thinking all the time that you miss your family."
Another man says he has "three beautiful daughters," at home. He won't see them again until August. Days like Father's Day are hard, he said. So are birthdays.
Both men chose not to be identified for this story because of the precarious nature of their work in Canada.
Missing their families is such a hardship for the men because during their time in Canada, it's very difficult for them to return home. Their work permits are tied to their employer, Aguilar explained, and employers typically don't want workers they've hired for the season to be absent.
"If the worker asks to go back because their grandmother is going to pass away or their wife is sick, they put their jobs at risk," he said. "They come willing to work and work hard. But they have lives, they have families. It shouldn't be like this."
Laura Best, an immigration lawyer, wants to see changes from the government to make life in Canada easier for migrant workers. She'd rather see an industry-wide permit rather than one that's tied to an employer, and permission for workers' families to join them in Canada.
"If they have conflicts with their employer... it's very difficult for them to change jobs," she said. "There's an inherent power imbalance between the workers—who have very few bargaining rights—and the employers who have all the power."
She thinks an industry-wide permit would make it easier for migrant workers to switch jobs if their employer was abusive.
She also thinks migrant workers should be allowed to bring their families.
"They're doing important work that Canadians are not willing or able to do," she said. "They should be allowed to have their families here."
Although these fathers are far from their children and spouses, the reason many of them came to Canada was to support their families so their kids could have a better future.
"It's a sacrifice that we make for them," one worker said. "The language barrier is very difficult. If we need to go to the doctor, that is very tough… But that's why we're here. For our families."
With a report from CTV Vancouver's Sarah MacDonald.