The article ‘From fields of power to fields of sweat: the dual process of constructing temporary migrant labor in Mexico and Canada’ by Leigh Binford is a 2009 publication in the Third World Quarterly Journal, volume 30 issue number 3. In this article, Binford (2009) discusses the establishment of a contractual form of labor between Mexico and Canada where forces from both the supplier and the employer of labor services shape the contract. In specific, the author of this article focuses on the supply of temporary labor from Mexico to the Canadian horticultural farms under the Seasonal Agricultural workers Program (SAWP).
Binford (2009) looks into a reemerging contractual form of employment despite being declared inexistent and costly due to migratory effects thereof a few years after the Second World War. This was followed by a neoliberal economic state and this has reignited guest work programs such as the SAWP. Demand for labor especially in North America and Canada has been due to and declining birth rate and an increase in an aging population whereas the economies in South America are flooded by a surplus of labor that has been either unemployed or underemployed.
Desire to have temporary workers has been spurred by the fear of overburdened state welfare in case of permanent migration and fears of terrorism. Critical response Binford (2009) argues that the Mexican workers under the SAWP initiative are forced to endure being in the program since it is the only way to earn a better living considering that neoliberalism has made Mexico unfavorable for any good income. Since the SAWP workers face the risk of being deported by the Ministry of Labor in Mexico and there is a large pool of unemployed workers in Mexico waiting to fill any vacancies in the SAWP initiative, the workers have to endure.
The employers in Canada have an almost unchecked power over the workers due to availability of a wide labor supply hence the contracted workers have to persevere and work to please the employers. This is despite being lowly paid compared to equivalent Canadian workers. Any protest from the workers is faced with replacement from Mexico or other Caribbean countries or even the introduction of policies that allow third world workers to join the programs.
Other than the composition of the population affecting labor supply and demand, it is clear that industrialization has influenced work significantly. In the North, the workforce has been absorbed in the highly paying industrial sector and sectors such as agriculture and construction remain unattractive to local workers. On the other hand, the poorer countries in the South have suffered the blow of liberalization in that the agricultural sector (which is an important sector in the economies) has been thwarted let alone the few industries.
Binford (2009) suggests that this has led to rise in unemployment and underemployment and any promising opportunity is pursued at whatever cost. The South and North economies operate on a labor-supply system with the South offering labor (mainly semiskilled and unskilled). The above social forces make Binford (2009, p 504) conclude that the SAWP initiative as a “dual process of social construction. ” Looking into the experiences of SAWP workers and generally the state of temporary workers in Canada, it is evident that workers are left without any option but to endure some bad experiences.
The Mexican guest workers in Canadian horticultural farms are under pressure from both sides (i. e. from home country and from the employers’ side). The economic condition in the source country is not appealing at all as the agricultural sector in home countries have already collapsed and it is not promising at all. The available option of moving into urban areas is not working since the urban areas are flooded thus leading to loss of jobs in the rural areas and unemployment in the urban areas.
On the other hand, globalization has opened up the opportunity of sourcing workers from virtually every part of the world. The main problem in this is that the desperate workers in the poor economies (e. g. the Mexican workers) are prone to exploitation from the employers. Nevertheless, the situation in the foreign countries is usually more promising that in the home country. This is the dilemma in which the Mexican horticultural worker finds himself/herself when presented with the SAWP program.
The role of the governments in the enhancement of guest work programs cannot be underscored. The government plays a role in enacting policies that encourage temporary work programs as a means of easing unemployment problems. Mexico’s Ministry of Labor (MOL) is a good example as stated in this article. The MOL coordinates the SAWP program by assigning workers to specific employers on a contract basis. The rules governing the SAWP contract empower the MOL and the employer to determine the worker’s case leaving the worker helpless and desperate.
For instance, the MOL requires that the worker to submit an evaluation made from the employer at the end of the contract and this forms the basis for renewal of dismissal from the contract. The effect of an evaluation system where the worker’s voice is almost unheard is that the worker is at the risk of being mistreated. In this case, the Mexican worker is forced to work to please the employer in order to increase chances of being reconsidered in the following year’s contract. It is no wonder that such a worker is determined to go an extra mile and work overtime without pay in order to please the employer.
Governments also promote the unfair practices in labor by setting up certain guidelines that are not considerate of the worker in pursuit of foreign exchange (Connel & Burgess, 2009). The Mexican government through the MOL for instance requires that a worker cannot changes employers unless the worker has been in three contract terms with the current employer. This is a big blow to the employee in that the employee can hardly raise any complaint even if the working conditions are unfavorable (Forde & MacKennzie, 2009).
Choosing to discontinue with the contract becomes no better option considering that there is a large number of unemployed people in Mexico who would like make a replacement. It is unfortunate that the MOL can punish worker by permanently discontinuing or temporarily suspending him or her based on the employer’s negative evaluation. This is dangerous in that an employer can evaluate a worker negatively due to failure to comply with certain employer’s demands that amount to violation of labor rights.
Lack of an institution that would look into workers interests also exposes workers to harsh decisions by employers. In fact Binford (2009) says that the consular officials who represent the Mexican workers favor the employers making workers lack confidence in representation by Consular officials. A powerful workers union in terms of numbers and representation is very important in advocating for employees rights (Ryland & Sadler, 2008). Lack of such a mechanism exposes employees to exploitation and no threats from the employees can make the employers attend to the needs of the workers.
This becomes worse when there is an excess of supply of labor since the threatening workers can always be fired and quickly replaced. This is what is facing the SAWP workers which have a representation of about 3,000 workers at any one contract period. Binford (2009) points out that the workers can hardly dare to use any means of collective bargaining such as a go-slow since there are unemployed individuals in Mexico who would readily replace the striking workers. Worse still is that Canada has the option of hiring workers from other developing countries such as Jamaica and Trinidad.
This forces the workers to endure and work towards pleasing the employer in order to secure a place during the next contracting. It is no wonder that Mexican workers are forced to work towards developing good labor relations with their employers at a personal level even if it is at a cost of working overtime at no pay. It is however hard for the workers considering that the employers rarely entertain mixing work with personal life. Binford’s (2009) examination of the guest work program between Mexico and Canada raises important issues related to fair treatment of migrant workers.
Considering that the invitation of guest workers is a legal process agreed upon by both the source and the destination countries, it is not fair to treat contract workers as illegal immigrants. There is need to review the policies upon which temporary migrant workers operate in order to protect the worker. Despite the fact that the labor source governments would like to decrease unemployment through temporary migrant workers, the governments should ensure that the labor rights of the workers are respected.
The Mexico-Canada case being a good example, it is worthwhile for Mexico to reconsider the procedures of contracting workers and seek to address the concerns of the workers. Employees should not feel threatened of being denied an opportunity to work outside if they raise their concerns. On the other hand, the destination countries such as Canada should not exploit contract workers in terms of wages and working conditions using the endowed powers. The employers should be made to adhere to minimum wages guidelines as per the International Labor Organization (ILO) in all dealings with the workers (Neumark & Wascher, 2008).
Other than reviewing the memoranda of understanding between countries that exchange labor, it is important to empower workers unions and reduce employers’ power in order to check the powers of employers and protect workers from being exploited. These considerations have to be made if the impact of globalization on supply of labor is to be effectively tackled. References Binford, L. (2009). From fields of power to fields of sweat: the dual process of constructing temporary migrant labor in Mexico and Canada. Third World Quarterly, 30(3): 503-517. Connel, J. and Burgess, J. (2009).
Migrant workers, migrant work, public policy and human resource management. International Journal of Manpower, 1(1): 412-421. Forde, C. and MacKennzie, R. (2009). Employers’ use of low-skilled migrant workers: Assessing the implications for human resource management. International Journal of Manpower, 30(5): 437-452. Neumark, D. and Wascher, W. L. (2008). Minimum wages. Cambridge, MA: ISBN 0262141027: MIT Press. Ryland, R. and Sadler, D. (2008). Revitalising the trade union movement through internationalism: The grassroots perspective. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 21(4): 471-481.
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