Provincial laws permit “slave labour”

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Thousands of workers across Ontario are being let down by unfair labour laws, leaving them devoid of even the most basic employment benefits – now, advocates are pushing for change.

“We want an end to all special rules and all exemptions from the Employees Standard Act,” says Tzazna Miranda Leal, of Justicia for Migrant Workers.

Currently, Ontario labour laws outline a series of exemptions for agricultural workers which means they often miss out on premium overtime pay, minimum wage, statutory holidays, and even scheduled coffee breaks.

Leal – who represents migrant workers in Essex County – says the exemptions have the biggest impact on foreign employees who have limited knowledge of the local labour laws.

While the labour law exemptions apply to all workers, including Canadian citizens, Essex County alone has as many as 5,000 temporary foreign workers toiling in the region’s fields during peak seasons.

“These are rules that apply to everyone in agriculture, but we know in this region most everyday farm workers are foreign workers,” Lead said. “These exemptions do not make any sense. We want them all scrapped. We want everyone to have the same basic labour rights.”

Jamaican-born Thelma Green equated her own experience with modern-day slavery; “We keep silent because we are afraid of what will happen,” she told the Ottawa Citizen. “We all have to make a big sacrifice to come to Canada and work and sometimes we are treated as slaves.”

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