New Research Helps Explain Why Peruvians Are Catching Chickens in Ontario

March 05, 2012 - News Release

Following the tragic February van accident that claimed 11 lives in rural Ontario, many Canadians were surprised to learn that most of the victims were from a country better known for its llamas than its chicken catchers. New research by Prof. Kerry Preibisch, a sociologist at the University of Guelph, helps explain why people from an increasingly wide range of countries are finding jobs as temporary workers in Canada’s food system.

Kerry Preibisch Her article, recently published in the International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food, tracks changes in the Canadian farm labour market in the past 10 years. The paper shows how government policy has led to increases in the number of migrant workers in agriculture and food, and the range of countries sending migrants to Canada, since 2002.

Changes to federal immigration policies have broadened the labour pool beyond the 13 countries with bilateral agreements with Canada for a seasonal agricultural worker program. Since 2002, employers with demonstrated labour shortages for any low-skilled occupation have been able to hire from anywhere in the world. In five years, the sector employed migrants from almost 80 countries.

“When we think of migrant workers, we often imagine Mexicans picking hothouse tomatoes or Jamaicans harvesting peaches," said Preibisch. "Today, migrants from a wide range of countries are employed across the food system in a variety of jobs, including picking bait worms in Wellington County or catching chickens in Stratford.”

A broader labour pool is increasing competition among temporary workers for Canadian jobs, she said. Managers use migrants’ availability and relative disposability to encourage higher productivity, sometimes pushing migrants to work more than 15 hours a day.

Some of those migrants are even more desperate than previous groups of workers, said Preibisch. Many come from regions with less political freedom and more marginalization. “A decade ago, Guatemala wasn’t sending migrant farm workers to Canada, but today the country ranks in third place after Mexico and Jamaica.”

The paper also points to lack of regulation and monitoring of migrant recruitment and employment. “This has resulted in a range of abusive practices, some of which can be considered human trafficking,” she said.

More temporary workers have benefited Canada’s agriculture and food system in a highly competitive global market. But her research calls for greater scrutiny on employment practices and immigration policies affecting the lives of the 40,000 migrant workers employed here each year.

Prof. Kerry Preibisch
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
University of Guelph

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