#MigrantSpring in defense of Temporary Foreign Workers in N.B.

    Graph created by Migrant Rights Network for the 'Migrant Spring Event.' (Submitted: Migrant Rights Network)

    In anticipation of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21, migrant organizations in six provinces staged demonstrations denouncing the treatment of immigrants in Canada as part of #MigrantSpring.

    In Fredericton, the demonstration took place at the Conserver House on March 17 and focused on the rights of migrant workers. Participating organizations included the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change and the Madhu Verma Migrant Justice Centre.

    Mexican native Josefina Jaramillo was among the attendees and is one of the 3,628 people working under the federal Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) Program in New Brunswick. Like many, she came to Canada looking for better opportunities but quickly became disillusioned with the system.

    “We suffer a lot of abuse directly from our bosses, even sexual harassment,” she said in Spanish. “All of this has made me raise my voice for me and some coworkers … to defend our human rights.”

    Jaramillo has been coming to New Brunswick as a seasonal worker for the past three years. In her first year, she noticed a lot of abuses flew under the radar because TFWs were not aware of how or to whom they could complain, and even when they did, they faced repercussions or were ignored.

    Her concerns echo the case of Francisco Javier Montaño de Dios who in 2023 spoke to The Aquinian about his experience working for LeBreton Fisheries. He said that from the 80 workers that the company brought, only three remained after LeBreton Fisheries allegedly made them resign earlier than their contract stated. Left with an uncertain future, Montaño de Dios added his mental health was quickly deteriorating and that he missed his six-year-old son in Mexico.

    Related: Temporary worker’s mental health worsens after time at N.B. fish plant

    “This is still all too hard on me. I haven’t been able to see my kid and it hurts so much thinking that he is growing up in my absence,” he said in September 2023.

    Jaramillo is also a worker in a fish plant located in the Acadian Peninsula and she is advocating permanent status for temporary workers so that they don’t fear repercussions for speaking out.

    “We are all afraid of speaking. We could lose our job and be deported,” she said. “At home, we either have violence or the economic situation.”

    Last year, a senate committee visited multiple farms and fishery plants in P.E.I. and New Brunswick to investigate concerns about temporary migrant workers. Senator Ratna Omidvar said after the visit “temporary foreign worker program and its many streams does not seem to be fit for purpose anymore,” adding that the full report was being released in March.

    Nuria Mirabeth, a Madhu Verma Migrant Justice Centre employee, said immigrant workers are vital for Canada’s economy, as its large aging population needs to be replaced and the fertility rate is not on par with this need.

    “[Foreign workers] contribute to the economy … by providing taxes and cheap labour,” she said. “We believe that migrant workers should have the same rights as permanent residents and Canadian citizens.”

    Mirabeth added that granting them the same rights would protect them from abuse and exploitation.

    “We believe that they suffer enough abuse and separation anxiety from being apart from their families,” she said.

    With files from Katherine del Salto