“Made in Canada: an agricultural podcast” covers migrant worker issues in Canada

Pedro Chamale’s work is an accessible way to learn about labour rights

Chamale: a groundbreaking SFU alum. Image courtesy of Stir

By: Kelly Chia, Staff Writer

Made in Canada: an agricultural podcast delves into the issues migrant workers face in Canada. Written and narrated by Pedro Chamale, SFU alum and co-director of rice & beans theatre, the podcast offers first-and-second-hand accounts of the injustices workers experience. I spoke with Chamale to learn about what inspired the podcast and what listeners can take away from it.

Chamale was inspired to create Made in Canada by a play he worked on with Derek Chan, his company partner. The play mentioned migrant workers, and hearing about their experiences in the show made Chamale curious about migrant workers locally. He learned many of them were Mexican, which made him more invested in the topic. “It’s been a reinvestigation of my identity as a Latinx person, having grown up in northern BC, separated from Latinx culture,” he said in his podcast. 

In the first episode, Chamale explained there are only about 60,000 seasonal agricultural workers from the Seasonal Agricultural Workers’ Program in Canada that we depend on for our food supply. “Last spring, when food supply lines were front of mind for many countries, we all started to hear maybe for the first time about migrant workers and all kinds of things that might be wrong with the program,” he said.

Talking to Chamale, I was shocked at how much migrant workers were expected to support themselves for things they should be able to rely on the government for. 

The government should [have] more regulations, or even just [provide] permanent residency upon arrival,” Chamale said. “They’re here to work on Canadian farms, so they should just be granted permanent residency as soon as they arrive here so that they have the exact same rights and freedoms we do as Canadians.” 

The pandemic especially affected the workers. Chamale said many seasonal agricultural workers in Canada lived in small quarters in the same house. “Some workers had died, a bunch had been sick, many more were ignoring symptoms because they didn’t want to lose work because they didn’t want to be sent home,” he reported.

Worse yet, Chamale said when the vaccines started rolling out, none of the workers knew if they were eligible for it because they weren’t Canadian citizens or in Mexico. Workers had to find “no questions asked” vaccine clinics by word of mouth.

Chamale said the community of migrant workers has immense trust in each other. He had difficulty reaching out to them because they were scared of being blacklisted by farmers or governments for talking about their experiences. “One worker told us that even though there aren’t supposed to be blacklists, they know farmers can choose who they bring back.” He said farms could make excuses for delaying their workers’ paperwork. 

Another worker said they were left without work after getting really sick last year. Their boss said the company was waiting for paperwork, but other workers said they were not rehired for fear of them getting sick again. 

When asked about organizations supporting migrant workers, Chamale recommended Sanctuary Health in Vancouver and the Migrant Rights Network. He also emphasized that everyone has the ability to write to their local MPs to support better rights for migrant workers. 

Listen to Made in Canada: an agricultural podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and other platforms. Also check out the companion album, Made in Canada: an agricultural song cycle. For more resources to support migrant workers, go to the Made in Canada website, https://www.micsongcycle.ca/stay-informed.