Home News ‘The combat of Patricia Perez’ uncovers plight of migrant workers

‘The combat of Patricia Perez’ uncovers plight of migrant workers

by Archives November 13, 2007

Patricia Perez’s one objective while she was alive was to give back dignity to Mexican migrant workers in Quebec. The Mexican woman’s campaign for her compatriots is the focus of a documentary, Los Mexicanos: The Combat of Patricia Perez.
The film illustrates Perez’s charge that Mexican agricultural workers are victims of discrimination and exploitation as they return to Quebec farms every harvest season to make a living.
The film was shown last Saturday at the Universite du Quebec a Montreal (UQAM) Library as part of the Rencontres Internationales du Documentarie de Montreal. It portrays Perez’s campaign to inform migrant workers of their rights, and, as the means of attaining their rights, she encouraged them to become unionized. Perez was also the founder of the Centre of Support for the Agricultural Workers.
The film takes viewers inside Quebec’s farms to show the current working conditions. Mexicans workers cultivate a variety of vegetables 14 hours a day, six days a week except Sundays, when they work half days.
The camera went inside the living spaces of workers, where in one house on a Laval farm, 15 workers live in the same crumbling house wracked by constant humidity. They are also exposed to the incessant smell of fertilizers which are trapped indoors.
Every season 4,500 workers come from poor rural areas in Mexico, willing to tolerate possible discrimination and adverse conditions so they can provide a better life for their families back home.
“It is sad to [leave] our families behind. We are not as ‘macho’ as most people think. We shed tears sometimes,” said one of the Mexican workers interviewed in the film.
According to the documentary, some employers confiscate the workers personal documents such as their passports as a means of leverage. Other times, without any justifiable reason, employers may decide to cut short their workterms before the end of the season. When workers complain, employers punished them by taking away five days of work and pay.
Workers also do not receive proper medical care when they are injured. This is the case of Guadalupe Olvera, a worker that was ran over by a tractor. His employer wanted him repatriated instead of giving him medical care.
In response, Olvera is now fighting a legal battle to get medical treatment from his accident in 2003 and hopes to be able to work again.
“I haven’t received the medical attention I needed, but I’m still here because I want to achieve something good for the future workers,” Olvera said in an interview with The Concordian.
“The main problem is that the employers don’t respect the contract, which states that seasonal agricultural workers have the same rights as Quebec workers. Sometimes because of ignorance and other [times] because of the fear to lose their job, Mexican workers are victims of all these injustices,” said Andrea Galvez, a representative of the Center of Support for Agricultural Workers.
A public discussion was held after the showing, where questions and opinions from the audience gave revealed that the plight of the Mexican migrant workers in Quebec remains largely unknown to the public.
“I had no clue about the conditions of Mexican workers in Quebec. It is very difficult to adjust every law to avoid employers taking advantages from its gaps. Without doubt the employers are taking economic advantages, but unfortunately a bad treatment for the workers comes with it,” said Belen Moran, a business student.
Charles Latour, the filmmaker, first took an interest when he read about the issue in a newspaper.
“But when I went to Mexico and met Patricia Perez, I knew that she was the one who will make a change so I followed her to make the documentary,” Latour said.
Perez, who died of cancer six months ago, started a fight that will not be over until Mexican workers’ rights are fully respected.

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