CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

Agriculture

January 9, 2013

Mexico, Canada partner on program for guest workers

(Continued)

OJOCALIENTE, Mexico —

At the end of the season last year, all 274 guest workers from Zacatecas returned home from Canada, according to state officials and the migrants.

This, of course, was by design.

Only married men are eligible for the Canadian program, preferably those with young children, and their families must remain in Mexico. Another incentive to return home: a cut of the migrants' wages is placed in a Canadian pension fund, receivable only if they return to Mexico.

Then there are the other elements of the Canadian system that U.S. labor unions and farm worker advocates say that they would not want to see copied.

Once in Canada, the workers live like monks, sleeping in trailers or barracks, under contractual agreements that forbid them from drinking alcohol and having female visitors, or even socializing with other Mexican workers from different farms.

Most of their time in Canada is limited to sleeping, eating and working long days that can stretch to 15 hours, without overtime pay.

"People look to Canada as a model for their success at making temporary workers truly temporary," said David FitzGerald, an immigration expert at the University of California at San Diego. "But the way they are prevented from staying is by socially isolating them to an extreme degree, controlling their movements and systematically preventing them from interacting with Canadian society," he said.

"From a labor rights perspective, it's troubling, but it's appealing to policymakers because it keeps the workers temporary," FitzGerald said.

Still, migrants interviewed here in the high desert towns of rural Zacatecas said work in Canada is hard but fair and well-paid. Their employers treated them well, they said, and when they didn't, the local Mexican consulate intervened.

"The consulate threatens to take away their Mexicans, and usually that's enough," said Armando Tenorio, who first worked in Quebec tending flowers and herbs inside a massive greenhouse.

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