Turning the Tables on the Migrant Worker Experience

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By on January 30, 2019
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This article can be found in the February 2019 issue of Anglican Life:

Article by Dr. David Morgan
Member of the Society & Justice Committee, Anglican East NL

150 million.

Though an incredibly difficult figure to define and calculate, that’s the total number of international migrant workers in the world in 2013, based on a 2015 report of the International Labour Organization. That’s roughly 4 times the population of Canada, and roughly 300 times the population of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Most readers of Anglican Life have at least a small sense of what the migrant worker life is like. You might have a brother, daughter, or friend who was travelling “up to Alberta” on rotation. Or, you might have done it yourself. 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off. 3 weeks on, 1 week off. Get up early, catch a plan, fly across the continent, live in a trailer, eat camp food, punch a long day of work, exercise in the evening, catch another plane and have a bit of time home before doing it all again. Constantly putting your life on hold—missing birthday parties and never tucking the kids into bed. 

You know what…these Alberta-bound friends and family aren’t even counted in the 150 million because they are working in the same country in which they are citizens. Not to suggest that the Alberta commuting life is an easy one, but it’s the same language, same currency, and more-or-less the same climate, food, and culture. All the same Canadian rights and freedoms apply, your healthcare is (for the most part) still covered, and your mobile phone probably works fine.

So, let’s change it up a bit. Remember that friend who was catching a plane for Alberta? They’re now catching a plane to Dhaka. It’s way hotter there than it was back home in Pouch Cove. Hardly anyone speaks any English and the food is totally different (your friend had to travel with a bag of hard bread and a pack of Mt. Scio savoury “just in case”, but there was a long period of questioning by Bangladeshi Customs officers over the savoury and the treats from home were eventually confiscated). 

Your friend lives in a basement apartment with four other people who also only speak a bit of Bengali. Every day involves an hour-long bus ride to and from work for a 12-hour shift (but not on every second Saturday, because that is their day off). Calling home is hard, because by the time your friend gets off work and back to the apartment, it’s the middle of the night back home. 

Oh, and your friend isn’t gone for 2 weeks—they are gone for 8 months. But, it’s not like they could come home earlier anyways because they aren’t making much money and are sending whatever they can back home. 

Last week your friend had stomach cramps and had to visit a doctor. The doctor and medicine cost a small fortune, and they weren’t totally sure they were given the right medicine anyways (they couldn’t explain their symptoms in the local language, they didn’t really have any friends that they could ask to go with them, and they can’t understand what the medicine bottle says). To cap it all off, on the way home from the doctor, someone cursed on them and told them that they should go back home because they were stealing jobs from Bangladeshis. When your friend called that evening to tell you about their horrible day, they cried on the phone for nearly 5 minutes. You told your friend to imagine that you were wrapping your arms around them in a big hug and that you were never going to let go; when the call was over, you cried too, and then your spouse gave you a hug for real.

shutterstock_1107756185.jpg
The above photograph is showing migrant workers in a field in Ontario, May 23, 2018.
photo © intuit from www.shutterstock.com

This “reverse” tale of international migrant work might have upset you—for that, I am sorry. And, if you are one of the readers of Anglican Life for whom this story is a little too close to your reality here in Canada, then I am especially sorry if I have upset you; if you see me around and ever want to talk, please introduce yourself—we can have a chat (I’ll buy coffee, but I am not much of a hugger).

Nobody should be fooled into thinking that the hard realities of international migrant work can’t be found in Newfoundland and Labrador. There are plenty of international migrant workers in this province. In fact, the Government of Canada reports that, on December 31, 2013, there were 1236 people with permits to work in NL under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (that’s just one program—there are others). Some of these workers might have picked up a copy of Anglican Life around town, while others might be reading a copy while sitting a pew.  When you see someone in your community who seems lost or alone, perhaps they are far from family and home – it only takes a second to offer a prayer or say “hello.”

God our refuge, you share the journey with migrants and refugees, lightening their footsteps with hope. For you, Lord, are close to the broken-hearted. Pour out your Spirit upon world leaders. May they see the tragedies of our human family, and be moved to respond with wisdom, compassion and courage. Open our eyes and hearts to the God-given dignity of all your people. Move us to welcome our neighbours, and so bear witness to your love. Through Christ our Lord, Amen. – Rachel McCarthy, Catholic Agency for Oversees Development

For more information and resources on social justice, check out www.anglican.ca/publicwitness/ And for more on local social justice efforts, check out www.parishoftheascension.ca/society.php and www.facebook.com/Anglican-East-NL-Society-Justice-Committee-500337617113660

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