Guatemalan agricultural workers recruited to Quebec, Canada are saddled with debt, charged exorbitant fees by recruiters, and work under precarious conditions, according to a new report.
The study, titled, “Who, How and How Much? The Recruitment of Guatemalan Workers to Quebec”, is a collaborative project between the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), and UFCW Canada (United Food and Commercial Workers union) and the Agricultural Workers Alliance (AWA), among others.
Researchers interviewed migrants from Guatemala enrolled in Canada’s Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) program.
They found many people take out enormous loans to cover the fees and expenses charged by recruiters on behalf of Canadian employers.
“The economic exploitation of Guatemalan TFWs is not a new phenomenon. Exorbitant recruitment fees charged both by recruiters, and in the past by organizations like the International Organization for Migration (IOM) only add to the ongoing precariousness that workers experience both in Canada as well as in Guatemala,” stated UFCW Canada National President Paul Meinema in a press release.
“UFCW Canada has had a long history of fighting to eradicate recruiter fees and to improve the working and living conditions for all agricultural workers across the country,” he added.
"These debts may explain why TFWs are generally not inclined to act on their labor rights if and when things go wrong," explained Dr. Dalia Gesualdi-Fecteau, a professor at UQAM and the lead author of the report.
"They don't want to do or say anything that might, in their perception, jeopardize their employment and their ability to repay their debts," she pressed.
The situation for the workers deteriorated in 2011, when then-Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper enacted the "four-in and four-out" rule.
It stipulates that when workers reach their four-year limit, they must leave the country and wait another four years for a new work permit.
As a result, many Guatemalans have disappeared from Quebec farms, as they try to avoid being sent home at the end of the agricultural growing season.
CBC reported that in 2016, more than 100 workers were unaccounted for, many having reached the end of their four-year limit.
"They face a dilemma," Denis Hamel, the head of FERME, an organization that brings the workers to the province, told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.
"Either they go back to their country for four years or stay here illegally and try to find a job to be able to send money to their family, knowing that if they get caught by police or the border services agency, they will be sent back and they won't ever be able to come back to Canada or the U.S," she added.
Currently, there are roughly 4,000 seasonal Guatemalan workers in Quebec and around 6,000 in all of Canada.