By Mike Williscraft
A token contribution request for a program supporting an estimated 600 migrant workers in Niagara West not only fell on deaf ears at Grimsby’s Finance and Administration meeting Monday, but it generated a labour law lecture, said Michael Hahn.
Hahn was at the meeting seeking $1,000 – matching that of Town of Lincoln – for the Migrant Farm Workers Program, run through St. Alban’s Church in Beamsville.
All members of the committee spoke against the request, with Ald. Steve Berry noting the town has had a long-standing policy which does not allow for donations and Ald. John Dunstall repeatedly telling Hahn advocacy for labour law issues is what was really needed.
“Wow! I expected no support from the Town of Grimsby because of a long-standing policy to deny financial support to any charitable undertaking. My objective was simply to inform the committee of our program and invite participation of any kind,” said Hahn after the meeting.
“What I didn’t expect is a lecture that this matter is none of the Town’s concern, but we are doing it all wrong.”
During the presentation, Hahn noted migrant workers generally earn $11 per hour working 10-12 hour days.
He noted that among the workers is a former lawyer from Aleppo, who was more than happy to receive a bike to be able to get around.
He said a $200 contribution would pay for bussing to allow the workers to get to a Sunday dinner at the church and $500 would help pay for a meal.
In a season, a worker could send as much as $10,000 home for their family to live on, about one year’s expenses.
On the issue of pay not keeping up with minimum wage and the length of work days, Duntall said that was a more pressing issue than a donation.
“What these people need is someone to step up,” he said repeatedly.
“If they are not being treated as well as us here, someone should step in and do something. Somebody needs to advocate so some of this does not continue.”
Ald. Dave Kadwell noted he believes municipal funds should support those who are permanent residents of the town.
Ald. Carolyn Mullins, who chairs the committee said, “A lot of citizens may want to support you, but for the municipality, we don’t have the funds.”
At the meeting, Hahn noted that it seemed appropriate for a municipal government to “take care of its economic engine. It’s just good business.”
After the meeting, Hahn said he thought the committee’s focus was misguided.
“I was more than surprised to be told we should instead be lobbying other governments to force farm employers to improve conditions for migrant workers. At the same time we should be asking the farm employers to support our program. Really? I left wondering who had smoked what prior to the meeting.”