Three former employees of the Mexican Consulate in Vancouver revealed before the British Columbia Labour Relations Board (in Canada) that they had received specific orders from Mexican public service employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs [in Latin American Spanish, la Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores or the SRE] and of the Ministry of Labour and Social Planning [in Latin American Spanish, la Secretaría del Trabajo y Previsión Social or the STPS] to conduct an ''anti-union, rejection and blacklisting'' campaign on compatriots registered in the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP), who, during their stay in that country, had joined the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) in order to demand that their labour rights be respected.
Before the British Columbia Labour Relations Board, where the charges brought against the Mexican government were publicly laid, ex-employees Diego Prieto, Javier Valdez and Félix Martínez made testimonies in relation to Ángel Villalobos, a consul general in Canada. Vice-consul and Ministry of Labour and Social Planning official Estela García León and agricultural worker protection expert Guadalupe Palacios would ask them to produce a ''list of farms where it has been suspected that there are workers who are in contact with UFCW'' in order to put them on a ''blacklist'', which would then be sent to the Ministry of Labour and Social Planning, so that they would not be accepted in the SAWP again or that they would be sent to farms where there was no union.
Furthermore, according to testimonies – of which La Jornada has obtained a copy – made last February by the former employees of the Consulate before the BCLRB, Mexican workers would be warned ''not to contact anyone'' from UFCW and to speak only to Consulate staff.
UFCW lodged a complaint against the Mexican government and the owners of several Canadian farms – where, every year, Mexican citizens registered in the SAWP work – on the ground of an ''alliance'' to prevent farm workers from defending their labour rights and for committing acts such as ''unfounded rejection and barring from SAWP''.
The Union alleges that ''Mexico wrongly interferes with Mexican workers who support the Union by denying them permission to return to Canada or, in other cases, by refusing to send a worker back to a unionized place of work''.
The Mexican government has already requested before the BCLRB that the hearings concerning case 61973/, which was opened after several workers at Sidhu Farms had complained, be ''temporarily suspended''.
''Mexico will suffer irremediable harm if the Sidhu Farms hearings keep on going their current course'', the Mexican government argued after requesting, before the Supreme Court of British Columbia, on February 28th, that the BCLRB be obligated ''not to admit any evidence as to what Mexico has done'' and be forced to ''suspend the hearings''. In stating its arguments, Mexico accused UFCW of ''seeking to violate its immunity and leading the BCLRB to meddle in a foreign state's sovereign actions in relation to its own citizens''.
Below are reproductions of parts of the long testimonies that were made before the Canadian labour authorities last February.
''Excuse me, Mr. Valdez, you were telling us about orders that you received from Mrs. García, Mrs. Palacios and Mr. Villalobos.''
''All of them warned me that I would have to be shrewd and that I was not allowed to speak to anyone who would come to me on the union's behalf. Villalobos would jokingly press me to tell the workers not to contact the support centres because they might stop signing up for the program and that, if they needed anything, they had to contact the Consulate. They would also tell me that if the employers were annoyed because the workers would go to the union, they would stop requesting their help and the consuls and I would lose our jobs. Those warnings were constant, especially from Guadalupe Palacios.''
At another hearing Prieto revealed that ''every time a worker got in contact with the union, there would be a report sent to the Ministry of Labour (...) nothing would get done without someone's letting Estela (García) know about it, as she was the person asked for instructions, and she would say, 'All right, we have to write a comment on the blacklist' ''. This blacklist had the words follow-up on the cases written on it.
Migrant Farmworker Awareness Week,
March 26 - March 29, 2012
University Contact: Kerry Preibisch Community Contact:
University of Guelph Students Against Migrant Exploitation
Phone: 519.830.0040 Phone: 416.420.6992
E-mail:[email protected] E-mail: [email protected]
ufcw.ca, Mon Mar 19 2012