Foreign workers in the agricultural and agri-food sectors hired in Quebec with a permit that does not allow them to change employers see their rights to freedom, security and justice violated, data presented this Thursday morning show. Acfas.
“If they lose their job, they lose their right to work in the country: everyone is very aware of that,” recalled one of the two researchers, Eugénie Depatie-Pelletier, in a telephone interview with La Presse.
Ms. Depatie-Pelletier and her colleague Marie-Èveline Touma present preliminary data, collected during the first year of their three-year study, as part of a symposium on immigrants with precarious status in Quebec.
The researchers collected the testimonies of 20 agricultural and meat processing workers who came from Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras under an employer-linked work permit (closed permit). They noted four types of violations of their rights.
“Their movements are very controlled outside of working hours. They have a hard time going to the convenience store or leaving their workplace at all times, ”illustrates Ms. Depatie-Pelletier, who is an associate professor at Laval University and director general of the Association for the rights of workers. home and farm (DTMF).
And “often”, the overtime hours worked in addition to those provided for in the contract are not paid, the researchers also heard. It is “very, very rare” for workers to seek justice. “It seems to be only when there is literally no pay, when the majority of the hours are unpaid, as happened in one of the cases we interviewed. »
The researchers also noted a “difficulty, if not outright barrier” to accessing medical care. Workers are “afraid to mention work-related illnesses and injuries, so there’s often a wait until it gets out of hand.” And in “a few cases” workers who asked to see a doctor were instead taken “to a masseuse, to the pharmacy”, or told that it would wait until two or three workers needed to consult.
The study aims to compare the situation of workers with closed and open permits. Other employees with low wages, but with an open permit, such as cashiers, will therefore be questioned. The researchers also want to document the fate of high earners with closed permits, for example in IT.
“The hypothesis that we think we can validate is that in the event of abuse, people under open license endure less time. They leave earlier. »
The DTMF association recently obtained funds from the federal Court Challenges Program to launch an action seeking to have the closed permits declared unconstitutional.
Virtually all countries, including members of the European Union and the United States, use such permits, with the exception of Israel, which abolished them in 2006. “Israel’s Supreme Court has unanimously held that it was modern slavery,” Ms. Depatie-Pelletier points out.
The association plans to file an action in Quebec Superior Court early next year, and expects the provinces and employer groups to intervene in large numbers. “We expect it to be a beautiful and big social debate,” slips the researcher.
It would therefore take five to six years before obtaining a decision from the Supreme Court, if it agrees to hear the case.