When Umi, Nanik and Dwipa left Indonesia for Canada, they hoped the income they earned there would give them and their families back at home the chance of a better life.
What they hadn’t realised was that they would be trapped in a form of debt-bondage: deceived and exploited by unscrupulous brokers who demanded part of their wages as repayment for getting them to Canada.
Recruited to work in minimum-wage jobs in a greenhouse in Leamington, Ontario, as part of Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program, they were tied to one job, one location and one employer – and at the mercy of their brokers.
If they refused or were unable to hand over the money demanded from them, each payday they were threatened with being sent back home with nothing.
Stories like theirs are not uncommon. Low-wage migrant workers form a significant portion of Canada’s agricultural workforce, with approximately 110,000 currently residing there, although it is unclear how many are indebted to brokers.
But what makes Umi and Dwipa – and a small group of others – unique is their decision to speak up and fight back.
Through their pursuit of justice, they expose a dysfunctional system that allows these brokers to operate with impunity, while also dealing with developments in their own lives as Umi learns of the death of her mother.
“Migrant labour programmes expose the colonial construction of Canada. They create categories of citizen and non-citizen with corresponding sets of rights and privileges,” explains filmmaker Min Sook Lee
“That Migrant Dreams was produced is a testament to the courage of workers who spoke out despite being told that they are disposable and replaceable, that they will lose their jobs and be deported, that there are hundreds of others lining up to take their place.
“They have seen others injured on the job and sent back home without proper medical care, berated and penalised for not working fast enough, fired for speaking out about unsafe working conditions. But, despite this climate of total control, they resist.”