The vulnerability of migrant workers allows employers to get away with discrimination because employees fear repercussions of standing up for their rights, according to a Human Rights Tribunal decision.
Ontario tomato farm Double Diamond Acres and owner Benji Mastronadi must pay a former worker $23,500 after the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal found he and a farm manager referred to the workers as “monkeys”.
West Indies worker Adrian Monrose, from St Lucia, told the tribunal the manager told the workers they were like “monkeys on a branch” while complaining about wastage. Mastronadi and farm supervisor Jeffery Carreiro claimed Monrose was fired over a history of violence, however the tribunal found no evidence to back up the suggestion.
Monrose, 38, admitted shoving Carreiro once, about two weeks before he was fired in June 2009. He said Carreiro swore at him, including telling him “That’s why Benji calls you guys monkeys.”
Dr. Tanya Basok testified to the tribunal that migrant workers are exceptionally vulnerable, and have difficulty vindicating their rights in the workplace. The problem is compounded by the fact that consular and liaison officials from supplying countries tend to be more interested in preserving the program for the workers in their countries than in vindicating the rights of individual workers.
“I find that a factor in the decision to terminate the applicant’s employment was that he complained about the monkey comment,” tribunal vice-chair David Muir wrote in the decision. “The conclusion that the applicant was prone to violence was baseless and that his termination was more likely in response to his having raised concerns about being referred to as a monkey.”
Muir said the farm owner and supervisor had “significant credibility issues,” and he was inclined to trust Monrose’s version of events because he admitted to actions that put him in a negative light.
"I find that the use of the term monkey to describe a Black man in the demeaning manner the term was used in this case is clearly discriminatory," Muir said.
Monrose first worked for Double Diamond in 2008 through the federal government’s seasonal agricultural worker program, and was recalled the following year to work at the same farm. He now worked on a farm in Windsor.
He said it takes courage for migrant workers to fight for respect and dignity, because in speaking out against their employers they risk losing their jobs and being sent home.
“What happened to me shouldn’t have happened,” Monrose told The Toronto Star. “It hurts. I don’t want anyone to experience what I went through. Many of us have wives and children to take care of.”
As well as paying $23,500 in damages for owed wages, reprisal and loss of dignity, Double Diamond was also required to hire an expert to develop a comprehensive human rights and anti-discrimination policy, and to train all its supervisory staff using an online human rights course.