It’s a long way from Mexico City to Ontario but that didn’t stop the ramifications of the September 19 earthquake being felt by a watermelon farmer in the Canadian province.
Pete Gubbels, who has a 120-acre farm about 25 kilometers west of the city of London, has legally hired seasonal workers from Mexico for years to tend to and harvest his crops.
He welcomed more Mexican farm hands to his property this week but due to the partial collapse last September of a building in Mexico City that housed labor secretariat offices, some of the familiar faces he has relied on in past years were absent.
The paperwork and the database necessary to hire his regular workers were destroyed or lost in the rubble.
“Some of the guys we normally had aren’t coming because the paperwork was destroyed,” Gubbels told Ontario newspaper The London Free Press. “So they sent us new people instead.”
The farmer said he had filed the necessary paperwork in January but “from there it just turned into a nightmare for us.”
Gubbels also explained that he had been in regular contact with some of his previous employees who told him that they couldn’t travel to Canada to work without government approval and that their applications were bogged down in a slow bureaucratic process stemming from the earthquake.
The London Free Press said that “it was an unexpected glitch” for Gubbels and other local farmers who have come to depend on Mexican labor and “who are constantly on a deadline to plant, tend and harvest their crops.”
One of Gubbels’ most reliable workers finally made it to Canada this week, two months after he was supposed to arrive.
However, others who were slated to arrive in May and June are still waiting for their paperwork issues to be cleared up in order to board flights north.
“There’s nothing we can do on this end,” Gubbels said. “It all has to be done in Mexico.”
A spokesperson for the Canadian agency that helps farmers connect with foreign workers also said that there were no issues on the Canadian end.
Canadian farmers have been legally inviting Mexican workers to the fertile southern Ontario farm belt for decades.
According to Mexicans who have worked on Gubbels’ watermelon farm, working in Canada in a legal program with a mandated minimum wage is like winning the lottery compared to the exploitative wages and conditions illegal agricultural workers sometimes face in the United States.
All told, Gubbels said that he employs 14 foreign workers and 40 Canadians, who work either part or full time, but added that he still needs more staff.
“We cannot find enough Canadians to do this job, but the guys from Mexico would gladly do this,” he said.
Source: The London Free Press (en)