(Montreal) The unsanitary conditions in which the foreign workers employed by the Demers greenhouses live “highlight the merits of having audits and compliance with standards,” said the Minister of the Economy and Innovation, Pierre Fitzgibbon, who however rejects the idea of withdrawing recent government aid to the company.
Posted on 1is June 2021 at 3:54 PM
The Canadian Press
“We should have evaluation points for our conditions of residence for foreign workers,” he said in an interview with The Canadian Press on Tuesday. That should be part of the criteria to authorize the funding. ”
A Radio-Canada report revealed Monday that the largest market gardening producer in Quebec housed its workers in Drummondville, in Center-du-Quebec, in dilapidated housing, where mold was abundant, that their bunk beds were strung in small spaces where the heat is suffocating in summer and where there is a regular lack of hot water.
Read the Radio-Canada report
Called on to comment on these revelations, Minister Fitzgibbon said he is “not going to defend the indefensible”, that companies must be “extremely sensitive” to the treatment of their employees and that attracting workers “goes through the basic hygiene ”.
According to the minister, the criteria for granting government aid should be specified so that there is “in the sectoral opinion of the ministry concerned, in this case Agriculture, a box which says that the company respects the welfare rules for foreign workers ”.
Although it is “legitimate” to address in this context the idea that Quebec withdraw its loan of 30 million and its subsidy of up to 23 million recently granted to Demers horticultural productions for an expansion project on the South Shore of Quebec, the minister considers that he “would separate this project” since it is “in Lévis and not in Drummondville”.
The union defends itself
In a press release, the union representing greenhouse workers maintains that it has not “stood idly by and sounded the alarm”. In particular, a complaint was filed with the CNESST and a formal notice was sent to the employer to relocate workers at the start of the pandemic.
According to UFCW Canada, the first problem stems from the lack of adequate standards in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
“On several occasions, inspectors from the CNESST and the Department of Employment and Social Development Canada visited the facilities of Serres Demers and each time, they concluded that the housing complied with the requirements, and this, according to the rules. which concern each of the organisms ”, they write.
The union says Ottawa is reviewing housing standards and that they have shared their recommendations to improve the living conditions of foreign workers.
Prime Minister François Legault found it difficult to see the conditions in which the temporary foreign workers who work for the Demers greenhouses are housed.
Mr. Legault said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon that it is up to the federal government to ensure the good conditions of these foreign workers, but that did not prevent him from putting his Minister of Agriculture on file.
“I hope this is an isolated case,” he said. The Minister of Agriculture, Angré Lamontagne, spoke with Mr. Demers who said he was to correct the situation. He will put the workers in other housing. […] But I find that unacceptable and I was happy that Mr. Demers thought the same thing and was going to correct the situation. ”
On the role of government, however, the Prime Minister passed the buck in the Ottawa court.
“It is more up to the federal government that must ensure that the conditions are good for these temporary workers who come to Canada,” said François Legault.
A communications firm hired by Demers Horticultural Productions had not responded to The Canadian Press’s request for an interview at the time of publication.