TORONTO, ON – Mike Schreiner, Ontario’s Green Party Leader, demands further efforts from Doug Ford’s government to protect temporary migrant workers who live in precarious conditions despite being a vital part of Canada’s agricultural system
In a recent publication, Mike Schreiner explains that Doug Ford’s COVID-19 prevention efforts in the agricultural sector fall short from having an impact on the conditions that migrant workers have been experiencing since the start of this pandemic.
Good in theory, not in practice
Schreiner’s comments are a response to Ford’s promise to increase workplace inspections at farms across Ontario. These inspections are a part of Ontario’s outbreak prevention plan to protect every worker in the agricultural sector and ensure that COVID-19 safety guidelines are being followed.
The action plan offers an extensive strategy to prevent and contain COVID-19 outbreaks, and it is accompanied by substantial economic aid.
Ontario designed this action plan after public outrage about the conditions that migrant workers were forced to work in during the first wave of the pandemic. By the end of 2020, an array of outbreaks in different Ontario farms led to 1788 infections and 3 deaths amongst migrant workers. These workers often live in compact bunkhouses and work in proximity to one another which fosters the spread of the virus and puts them at a higher risk.
The prevention plan establishes a strong strategy but the better part of the action is in the hands of the farm owners. They are expected to comply to these suggestions but in a portion of cases they are incapable due to financial limitations, spatial capacities, and/or managerial outlooks.
Ontario’s action plan and financial investment are present, but they do not seem to be enough. Since the deployment of the plan, multiple outbreaks have been declared, even during the low harvest season. Definite numbers are difficult to establish due to lack of testing for workers and hesitancy to reveal outbreaks. Nonetheless, in the county of Windsor-Essex, one of Ontario’s main agricultural counties, there were as many as 4 workplace outbreaks in the agriculture sector confirmed on the week of February 8th.
Schreiner’s plea for supplemental action is pressing. As mentioned in his publication, about 2 000 more migrant workers will be arriving in the coming weeks to cope with Canada’s agricultural demand for labour. In Schreiner’s view, the Provincial Government’s inspection efforts may be “too little, too late”.
Migrant Rights are Human Rights
Multiple organizations have come forward to shed light on the conditions of temporary migrant workers. The workers themselves are afraid to speak due to fear of losing their jobs.
As recently as December, Justice for Migrant Workers, an organization that is focused on improving migrant workers rights’ in Ontario, wrote a letter destined for public officials unveiling conversations they had with different migrant workers. The workers, who decided to remain anonymous, depicted working conditions in which farm owners kept COVID-19 outbreaks secret and would even go as far as withholding COVID-19 test results.
The letter, which is addressed to officials in the Federal and Provincial governments, echoes Mike Schreiner’s comments about the need for further action to protect these workers.
According to Statistics Canada, these temporary migrant workers constitute over 40% of the workforce that upholds Ontario’s 13.7B$ agricultural industry. In Schreiner’s view, further action cannot come sooner and given their crucial role in Canada’s food supply chain, they should be included in Ontario’s vaccination strategy.