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Migrant worker flees farm after enduring months of abuse and neglect


Migrant worker flees farm after enduring months of abuse and neglect

Canada NewsWire

Abandoned by the Mexican Consulate and Canadian government, an Open Work Permit is his last resort.

VANCOUVER, Aug. 16, 2018 /CNW/ - Left without options, Noe Barrientos-Benitez decided to flee the Surrey, BC farm where he had been working since May 2018. In front of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada in downtown Vancouver, Noe denounced the abuses that led him to this drastic decision.

"I heard that coming to Canada is a great opportunity, and that—unlike in Mexico—my work would be well paid, I would have safe and healthy work and living conditions, and that Canadian employers would respect the law" said a shaken Noe. "It's been the opposite: Canadian employers have denied me safety equipment when I've needed it, have not helped me nor allowed me to visit the doctor when I was injured, and have done everything they can to withhold the wages I've worked so hard to earn."

Noe's courage makes him one of a handful of temporary workers who, in the 52-year history of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP), have decided to flee their workplace and speak out about their situation. This is due to a long and well-documented history of reprisal and blacklisting by Canadian employers, who have always counted on the complicity and negligence of the Mexican and Canadian governments.

Employment and Social Development Canada's (ESDC) Integrity Policy and Program Intelligence Division, tasked with protecting temporary foreign workers in Canada, was first alerted of Noe's situation by the Migrant Workers' Dignity Association (MWDA) on July 23rd, and again on August 7th. However, ESDC refused to even consider the daily harassment and psychological abuse Noe was enduring from his employer as reason to take prompt and decisive action to protect him.

"We have seen temporary workers face the abrupt end of their contracts, be repatriated, and suffer psychological harassment and physical abuse in complete impunity" said Byron Cruz of Sanctuary Health. "Noe's courage to denounce his situation proves that our work of advocating for access to services for all, and providing direct support to agricultural migrant workers is key to prevent further injustices."

"When looking at the over 50 years of the SAWP's regulations and overlapping jurisdictions, together with the lack of enforcement, we clearly see that this is not a case of "bad apples". The program amounts to a form of institutionalized exploitation."  said Juanita Sundberg, Associate Professor of the Department of Geography at the University of British Columbia. "We do not expect people working in Canada to face these challenges, but the evidence is indisputable. As beneficiaries of the fruits of this program, it is our responsibility to support people like Noe who have the courage to speak out about egregious violations, and do our part to stop this chain of exploitation."

The MWDA is assisting Mr. Barrientos-Benitez obtain an Open Work Permit to protect him from the financial, emotional, and psychological abuse he's endured, and to allow him to remain in Canada. Noe is a Mexican father of three who joined the SAWP in 2015, and has since survived harsh conditions on farms across British Columbia.

"The Mexican Consulate and the Canadian government have come and gone, and nothing changed. I am doing this to protect myself and my family, and I hope all migrant workers in Canada will follow me, because we are persons first, then workers; never animals or machines. We deserve respect, and I will not stop until I get justice" said Noe Barrientos-Benitez.

SOURCE Migrant Workers Dignity Association

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