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Migrant workers hid secret menus in Canadian restaurants

Hundreds of customers scanning QR codes for restaurant menus across Canada have been surprised by secret menus that reveal the hidden costs behind the food they eat.

These secret menus were designed and distributed by Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, a national organization based in Toronto, with the goal of exposing exploitative working conditions: low wages, unsafe work, substandard housing, family separation and long hours of backbreaking work.

The organization pasted its QR codes on top of existing menu QR codes in hundreds of unnamed restaurants across the country to communicate a single plea: migrant workers need permanent resident status.

Each menu item reveals a story about exploitation, for example, that of a Jamaican potato harvester named Garvin Yapp who died in a farming accident in Norfolk County, Ont. last summer. Another aims to highlight the 18-hour days some migrant workers spend on their hands and knees picking strawberries.

At the end of the menu, customers are asked to sign a petition asking the Prime Minister for fair conditions for farm workers.

Each year, more than 60,000 seasonal farm workers come to Canada from places like Mexico, Jamaica and other Caribbean countries. Between January 2020 and 2021, nine migrant farm workers died in Ontario.

"We are inviting [the public] to be part of the fight," said Syed Hussan, executive director of Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.

Migrant workers are deliberately coming forward with their stories as food costs rise across the country along with profits for large grocery store owners. Hussan says these profits come at the expense of migrant workers.

"It's important to know that 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 are homeless."

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau outlined Canada's immigration policy priorities in December 2021, he said his government would expand pathways to permanent resident status for temporary foreign workers.

"Thirteen months later, no action has occurred. With the return of parliament, now is the time," said Hussan.

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