If you were on your way to or from the Father’s Day Charity Car Show in downtown Kelowna, there’s a good chance you would have noticed the two dozen migrant workers’ rights supporters lined along the white railings of the pedestrian overpass on Harvey Avenue.
Ralliers gathered on June 16, in association with Radical Action with Migrants in Agriculture Okanagan (RAMA) and the Migrant Rights Network to bring migrant labour rights and racism to the forefront of the federal election.
“We really want to put the issue forward of racism against migrant workers and the politicization of fear-mongering,” said Luis Diaz, a five-year RAMA Okanagan collective member.
“We want our community to be more inclusive and welcoming of these members of our community,” he said.
The supporters ranged from children to recent graduates and B.C. union members; all of which were protesting for more thorough and cohesive workers’ rights.
“I believe that, as Canadians and people in Kelowna, I benefit from people who come and do the work that we can’t find other Canadians to do,” said Debbie Hubbard, Amnesty International volunteer. “And so this is my way of saying thanks and that I support them.”
“We are here to support RAMA that organized this protest against racism that’s been directed at migrant agricultural workers,” said Paul Finch, B.C. Government and Service Employees Union treasurer. “We feel very strongly that these workers should be supported.”
“A core part of our mission isn’t simply fighting for wages and benefits for our members but also politically supporting working people across the province.”
Lucie Bardos, another protester, studied Latin American studies in her bachelor’s degree, where she learnt more about the challenges migrant workers encounter.
“It was pretty mind-blowing to find out how little access they have to things like health care, legal assistance [and] community services in general,” said Bardos.
In 2017, the Canadian Council for Refugees rated B.C.’s labour rights for migrant workers a D overall, concluding, “there is no legislation designed to protect migrant workers’ rights.”
In some cases, migrant workers were excluded from receiving minimum wage and overtime pay.
But in 2018, the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia enabled Bill 48-2018, which included stipulations for B.C. employers to adhere to such as enforcing the minimum wage.
But the Migrant Rights Network and its affiliates believe the government could and should do more.
Their demands are permanent resident status and family unity in Canada, as well as landed status on arrival, full labour rights and $15 per hour minimum wage (current legislature states migrant workers must be paid at least $13.85 per hour); no discrimination towards any minority group and enforcement on practices and policies that will not add to climate change and other various catalysts that could cause displacement.
In 2017, the federal government issued almost 80,000 work permits to members of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. Over half those permits were designated for agricultural workers, according to a 2018 report by the Council for Refugees; another of their reports said almost 17,000 of the permits issued were for B.C.
Diaz said the number of temporary foreign workers in the Okanagan is close to 3,000.