Broadening the Debate on Precarious Work

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Pablo Godoy from the United Food and Commercial Workers speaks at Carleton University March 14 about the work of Students Against Migrant Exploitation.

An interview with Pablo Godoy

By Samantha Ponting

At this June’s Canadian Federation of Students’ (CFS) Semi-Annual General Meeting, a motion was served from a Toronto local calling for the CFS to take a position in opposition to the Temporary Foreign Workers’ Program (TFWP), noting that “the Temporary Foreign Workers Program has grown infamous for employer exploitation of labour via exorbitant recruitment fees, unliveable housing conditions, dangerous working conditions, and criminal intimidation tactics.”

It was rather appropriate, then, that Pablo Godoy of the United Food and Commercial Workers was a guest speaker at the general meeting for a panel entitled, “Precarious Work.” Godoy spoke to delegates about the violence inherent in the program, while highlighting the dependency workers have on these jobs.

Eventually defeated, the motion sparked a heated debate about the importance of involving migrant workers when discussing policy issues that affect them. It was widely acknowledged that any future attempts to establish policy positions on the TFWP would require significantly more research and dialogue. had the opportunity to speak with Godoy following the panel. He spoke to us about how migrant workers have been widely excluded from policy talks surrounding the TFWP.

And he spoke of the gains that can be accomplished through community building: meaningful migrant solidarity work has sprung up on select campuses across Canada, notably through the group Students Against Migrant Exploitation, which focuses on education and advocacy.

When confronting problems within the program, collective bargaining can also be an effective tactic. While seasonal agricultural workers don’t have the right to join a union in some provinces, such as Ontario,  some meaningful gains have been made in workplaces where migrant workers can access collective agreements.

Our interview with Godoy can be found here:

[audio:|titles= An interview with Pablo Godoy]

Advancing student-worker solidarity through the CFS 

Student unions have an important role to play in confronting the injustices inherent within the TFWP, and supporting the broader labour movement in defending its rights.

Labour solidarity was one of the many themes of the general meeting, with an emergency motion served by Locals 18 and 15, Douglas Students’ Union and Thompson Rivers University Students’ Union, in support of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation.

One June 10, 28,809 BC teachers (86 per cent) voted in support of a walkout in response to the province’s current attacks on public education. Teachers have been without a contract since February, 2013.

The adopted motion calls for member locals to join actions and picket lines, and draft letters of support for striking teachers.

This solidarity is rooted in the knowledge that firstly, students are workers, and secondly, we are stronger united.students and workers united button

Noting that students are affected by high unemployment rates, unpaid internships, and a precarious job market, the CFS has partnered with Unifor to organize the Good Jobs Summit, happening October 3 to 5 at Ryerson University. The summit seeks to bring together workers, students, policy makers, employers and community partners to debate economic issues within the labour market. It will be a forum to discuss the realities faced by young workers, women, racialized and aboriginal workers.

According the Unifor National President Jerry Dias in a letter drafted to CFS delegates, “The summit we are organizing is not a discussion among ourselves, but a process and debate to engage all the stakeholders in our labour market.” While it can be beneficial to bring an array of policy stakeholders to the same table, more spaces need to be carved out for concrete, action-oriented “discussions among ourselves.” How workers and students chose to mobilize together, alongside other marginalized groups, remains pertinent to advancement of our collective goals. 

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