The book “Unfree Labour: Struggles of Migrant and Immigrant Workers in Canada,”
In the book “Unfree Labour: Struggles of Migrant and Immigrant Workers in Canada,” contributor Mark Thomas discusses the state restrictions that make SAWP workers “unfree.” IN YOUR OWN WORDS, summarize these restrictions and how they are contested.
State Restrictions that Make SAWP Workers Unfree, according to Thomas in “Unfree Labor” In response to the prevalence of labor shortage in the agricultural sector, the Canadian government established the SAWP program in 1966. As Thomas states in the “unfree labour”, the program was part of the federal government’s efforts to help growers to attract foreign workers from the Commonwealth Caribbean and Mexico for temporary employment in farms and agricultural companies. However, state restrictions and policies tied to SAWP program have created conditions where migrant workers who come to Canada under the program are unfree. One such restrictions, as pointed out by Thomas, is the denial of permanent residence and citizenship rights. SAWP workers are required to maintain a migratory status (noncitizens) throughout their stay in Canada, which evidently contributes to labor unfreedom. For instance, the temporary work permit, coupled with lack of permanent residence rights often force SAWP workers to continue work for longer hours and under deplorable conditions for fear that raising any complaints would lead to their repatriation.
Additionally, state restrictions limit SAWP workers from seeking alternative employment opportunities outside their specified contract. Migrant workers who come to Canada under the SAWP program have temporary labor contracts that deny them the freedom of labor mobility, thereby restricting them from circulating in the labor market. As such, they are forced to work for only one employer, despite lower wages and unconducive working conditions.
Lastly, the differential treatment of “citizens” vs. “noncitizens” legitimized by nationalist discourses renders SAWP workers and their labor unfree. State restrictions around the SAWP program and the temporary nature of the SAWP workers’ employment contracts encourages denial of their (SAWP workers) membership in the national community. As a result, they are often described and treated as “other”, “outsider”, “foreigners” or “undesirable”, which limits their access to employment benefits such as paid leave and vacations, overtime pay, minimum wage and quality healthcare.
Although many SAWP workers work in conditions of “unfree labor” created by state restrictions, these conditions have been highly contested in recent decades. For instance, many farmworkers, including SAWP are now entitled to organize into certified bargaining units in order to collectively negotiate for better terms of work, thanks to the advocacy spearheaded by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union since the 1990s. In addition to the assistance from the UFCW, migrant worker justice organizations and initiatives have sprung up with an aim of promoting both the labor and human rights of migrant workers, including those employed under the SAWP program. Some of the initiatives and organizations that Thomas identify to show how “unfree labor” is being contested include Justicia for Migrate Workers, the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, The Agricultural Workers Alliance and the Montreal-based Immigrant Workers Centre.
Choudry, A., & Smith, A. A. (Eds.). (2016). Unfree labour? Struggles of migrant and immigrant workers in Canada. PM Press.