Canadian migrant workers sneak secret menus into restaurants to expose exploitation
Hundreds of customers who scan QR codes for restaurant menus across Canada are being surprised by secret menus instead, revealing the hidden costs behind the food they eat.
These secret menus were designed and distributed by Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, a national organization headquartered in Toronto, aiming to expose exploitative working conditions: low wages, unsafe labour, poor housing, family separation, and long days of backbreaking labour.
The organization plastered their QR codes on top of existing menu QR codes in hundreds of unknowing restaurants across the country to communicate a single plea – migrant workers need permanent resident status.
“Because the current laws don’t protect our health, safety, and working status, those of us who speak up are ignored and many others decide to stay silent in fear of deportation and losing their livelihood,” Robert, a Jamaican migrant greenhouse worker, said.
Each menu item reveals a story about exploitation. The “To-Die-For Sweet Potato Fries” tells the tale of a potato harvester from Jamaica named Garvin Yapp who was killed in a farming accident in Norfolk County, Ont. last summer. Another, the “Bitter Strawberry Tart,” aims to spotlight the 18-hour days some migrant workers spend on their hands and knees harvesting strawberries.
Every year, more than 60,000 seasonal agricultural workers come to Canada from places such as Mexico, Jamaica, and other Caribbean countries. Between January 2020 and 2021, nine migrant agricultural workers died in Ontario.
“We are inviting [the public] to be a part of the struggle,” Syed Hussan, executive director of Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, told CTV News Toronto.
Migrant workers are purposely featuring their stories as food costs rise across the country alongside the profits of big box grocery store owners. Hussan says these profits are made on the backs of migrant workers.
“It’s important to know migrant farm workers are literally tied to their employers,” he added, noting that migrants can’t protect themselves because they don’t have permanent resident status. “What that means is if a worker speaks out about abuse, they become homeless.”
When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau outlined Canada’s immigration policy priorities in Dec. 2021, he said his government would expand pathways to permanent resident status for temporary foreign workers.
“Thirteen months later, no action has happened. With parliament returning, now is the time,” Hussan said.
At the bottom of the secret menu, migrant workers are asking restaurant patrons to sign a petition, pleading, “Tell PM Trudeau your food should come with fair working conditions.”
“It’s crucial to understand that if you eat in this country … you are implicated in this food chain,” Hussan said. “Each and every one of us is implicated.”