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News Release

December 15, 2006

International Migrants Day Time to Recognize Canada's Workers, Prof Says

Monday is International Migrants Day and it’s an ideal time for Canadians to recognize the contributions and sacrifices of the country’s migrant workers — especially women migrants, says a University of Guelph professor.

“There has been a growing dependence on migrant workers in Canada, especially in the agricultural sector,” said Guelph sociology professor Kerry Preibisch, who studies the experiences and working conditions of migrant farm workers. In 2003, she was part of a first-ever, comprehensive evaluation of the national Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program.

“Some of these workers are women who have migrated independently and who are the breadwinners of their households,” Preibisch said. They spend up to eight months a year in Canada, contributing millions to national and local economies, but they also face unique challenges and risks, she said.

“Up until now, women migrant workers have been largely invisible, both in terms of research and in public policy. This is something our country needs to start addressing. Many people are either unaware or choose to ignore the migrant community living in their midst.”

In another Canadian research first, Preibisch and her research team are examining the many complexities of migrant labour in rural communities and the role gender plays, focussing on groups of women from Mexico and the Caribbean. The study is part of the Rural Women Making Change Community-University Research Alliance based in Guelph. The $1-million national project, directed by Guelph Prof. Belinda Leach, is funded by the federal Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. The Migrant Worker Project research team includes professors Leach and Luann Good Gingrich of York University, and graduate students Evelyn Encalada of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and Andre Lyn of Carleton University.

The Canadian government issues close to 100,000 migrant worker permits each year, and about 20,000 of these workers are concentrated in agriculture, Preibisch said. Only about 3 per cent are women, which is part of the reason they have been neglected over the years.

“It is important that we focus on migrant women because they are the most vulnerable to human rights abuses, both as migrants and as females. They also face unique challenges,” Preibisch said.

Female migrant farm workers confront systemic barriers to adequate health care in rural Canada. Physically demanding work and exposure to pesticides make women particularly vulnerable to illness, but factors such as language barriers, restricted mobility, and limited service hours of health care facilities in rural areas all limit migrant women’s access to health care, she said.

“When we talk about the challenges facing migrant women, it’s also important to recognize the ways in which they are actively shaping their own destinies,” Preibisch said. “These women have made a decision to work abroad, separated for their children for up to eight months, year after year because they want to improve their lives, specifically those of their children. Most of the women are also supporting extended families back home, which is a tremendous responsibility.”

International Migrants Day is a good opportunity to draw attention to the subject, she added. The United Nations officially designated the day in 2000 was a way to express support and solidarity to migrant workers around the world.

“But International Migrants Day only lasts for 24 hours. We need to continue to focus on finding long-range solutions long after it’s over,” Preibisch said.

Prof. Kerry Preibisch
Department of Sociology
(519) 830-0040

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519- 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rachelle Cooper, Ext. 56982.

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