Richmond protesters call for equal rights for foreign workers

People from around Richmond and the Lower Mainland held a rally in the city Saturday to call on Ottawa to grant greater rights and protections to foreign farm and other temporary workers.

The protest – held outside Steveston-Richmond East MP Kenny Chiu’s office – was organized by Richmond resident Karina Reid, part of a series of rallies held across the country Saturday under the auspices of the Migrant Rights Network.

Other rallies were held in Toronto and Montreal.

The group – made up of people from Richmond, New Westminster, Coquitlam and Burnaby – each shared their thoughts on why they attended the rally.

For example, that migrant workers come to Canada to do jobs that Canadians "don't want to do," said Reid, and then aren't given equal rights and status.

“We don’t give them rights to healthcare, we don’t give them rights that they deserve. It’s not just farm workers, it’s also care workers. Many women come here to take care of Canadians’ kids, and are fighting for those rights to status as well.”

That includes rights to time off and sick leave, said Reid.

While issues surrounding migrant workers are long-standing, they've been highlighted by COVID-19, which Reid said is the “silver lining” of the pandemic.

“The silver lining of the COVID crisis is that it is highlighting the discrimination that we have in our country, and that we must do better and we can’t go back to where we were before…we should not be creating such horrible human rights violations.”

Reid said it’s important to highlight Richmond as an agricultural community, which also benefits from migrant workers, and she chose Chiu’s office for the rally as he is a member of the parliamentary Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration.

Chiu was not at the protest, she said, adding that she received an email from his office saying he is currently in Ottawa, and that the MP will bring the issue up at the next immigration committee meeting.

The Richmond News has reached out to Chiu’s office for comment.

The group, maintaining social distancing, also marched up and down the block chanting “Status for all, equal rights for all,” and some protesters decorated their vans for the rally.

Reid said she is also glad to see that protests have been organized locally in Richmond recently.

“I feel proud that Richmond is not waiting for Vancouver to host a protest, that we are coming together as a community, and basically saying, we are a great community, and let’s stand up for rights here in our own city.

So far this year, 4,348 workers have come to B.C. from Mexico through the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, and the Mexican consulate in B.C. expects that number to climb to 6,000 by season’s end.

That’s about the same number as in 2019, and represents the largest single nationality of temporary foreign agricultural workers in the province.

  • With files from Tri-City News
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