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May Day 2019 in Halifax: Justice for all workers, including migrant workers

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Some sixty people rallied at the foot of the Maritime Center in downtown Halifax this afternoon, to celebrate International Workers Day.

The five demands. Photo Robert Devet

The theme of the rally, as always on May Day, was solidarity, this year with a focus on solidarity was minimum wage earners and others who have little protection in the workplace and face poor working standards, including migrant workers.

Among the demands articulated by rally organizers were proper compensation if workers exceed an eight-hour day or 40-hour workweek, and the abolishment of so-called training and probation minimum wages and the unpaid training shifts all too common in restaurants.

As well, employers should be punished when wage theft occurs, and workers must receive at least two weeks notice when they are being dismissed, no matter how short a time they’ve been employed.    

The Maritime Center was chosen because that’s where the Department of Labour and Advanced Education is located. A letter with demands was hand-delivered to Minister Labi Kousoulis.

Speakers from a variety of backgrounds touched on the themes of the rally. We heard from the Halifax-Dartmouth and District Labour Council, the Industrial Workers of the World K’jipuktuk – Halifax, Gary Burrill of the NDP, the Communist Party of Canada (ML), the Mayworks Festival, and the Fight for 15.

Particularly informative was a short speech by Stacey Gomez, a migrant justice activist and one of the organizers of the rally.  Gomez addressed the case of Daniella, a migrant worker at the Fox Hill Market and Deli on Robie Street in Halifax who was allegedly subjected to extortion by her employers.

Here is that speech in its entirety.

Stacey Gomez. Photo Robert Devet

A key theme of this year’s rally is no worker left behind, and as mentioned, that includes migrant workers. We want the same labour standards that apply to others also to apply to migrant workers. Migrant workers are a very important part of our society, and this includes harvesting the fruits and vegetables that we eat, and doing hard work that many Canadians would not do. Migrant workers face many systemic issues that makes them particularly vulnerable.

In one part of Canada i met a man who has been coming here for 20 years, and each year he returns to Mexico. We import people’s labour and we say that they are not allowed to stay.  For many migrant workers, particularly agricultural workers, there is no path to permanent residence.

Across Canada, may partner organizations under the umbrella of the Migrant Rights Network, are coming together to demand an open work permit for Migrant workers. This would give them the right to labour mobility, which would decrease their vulnerability. That way these workers wouldn’t have to stay with employers who are abusing them.  

I am sure many of you heard how on Monday news broke of worker exploitation at the Fox Hill Market and Deli.  The owners have been accused of wage theft against an immigrant worker named Daniella, who is here under the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program.

When Daniella and her husband raised the issue of wage theft, that exorbitant fees were being deducted from their pay cheques, her bosses threatened that she would be returned to Mexico if she made a fuss.

So this is happening right in our city, just like it happens in many rural areas, We need to do a lot of work to build relations with migrant workers in our community.

There are other workers (at the Deli) who may be undocumented, and we can only imagine how they are being treated. Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is looking into this case that came to them through an anonymous tip.

It is important to say that CBSA is not a friend of immigrants. If we call CBSA we put workers at risk of deportation. There are other options if we want to support immigrant workers, groups like the IWW and the Workers Action Centre.

So yes, we will follow this case closely. We know that the owners have lot of connections to politicians, and we want to see justice for these workers.

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