Sunday, August 23 is the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition.
The Transatlantic slave trade is the term given to the practice of shipping African men, women and children to a destination in Europe, The Americas, and the Caribbean, where they were sold into a life of enslavement.
We pause to remember this time in our history and to acknowledge the tragedy of the wrongs done to African people. It is also important to acknowledge the struggles of the descendants of those enslaved, in order to prevent cruelty like this from taking place again.
While we reflect on the abolition of one form of slavery, we must shine a light on the present-day slavery that exists around us.
The International Labour Organization estimates there are nearly 40 million people enslaved in the world today. These include domestic workers, construction workers, and agricultural workers. There are also people in forced sexual exploitation, forced marriage, and forced labor imposed by state authorities.
Each year, thousands of migrants enter Canada through the Seasonal Agricultural Program. They contribute millions each year to the economy through the taxes they pay, but they don’t benefit from many of the social services. The recent outbreak of COVID-19 in in the Windsor-Essex farming community resulted in the deaths of three workers and left hundreds of others infected. The conditions they live and work in have led to public outcry and comparisons to conditions faced by people enslaved.
OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas says that too often people working on farms in Ontario are forced to work and exist in conditions far below acceptable standards.
“The labour movement needs to be an even stronger voice in calling for better working conditions for these workers who grow and reap the food that’s on our tables,” said Thomas.
It is important that we continue to support groups such as Justicia for Migrant Workers that are fighting for change, noted OPSEU Vice President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida.
“Justicia for Migrant Workers are fighting for the government to provide these workers with safe working and living conditions,” said Almeida. “These are basic rights that all workers should be entitled to.”
Peter Thompson, Chair of OPSEU’S Coalition of Racialized Workers, and Elizabeth Ha of the Provincial Human Rights Committee have worked closely with Justicia for Migrant Workers over the years, helping to educate its members and members of the Windsor-Essex community on the working conditions of migrant workers.
Thompson believes that COVID-19 has brought much-needed media attention to the practices of the Ontario Farming Industry, due in part to the death of the three migrant workers whose deaths might have been prevented had profit not taken priority over safety.
“Farmers are upset, but everyone who holds the power to change things has been playing the blame game, and no one has the courage to call the farmers out on their racist practices,” said Ha. “The pressure is on them now, because people in our community are finally seeing how these workers are being treated.”