'Risking their lives': Migrant workers group releases complaints from Ontario farms during pandemic
TORONTO -- A group fighting for justice among migrant workers released a report Monday about what workers face at some Ontario farms during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC) said between March 15 and May 15 it spoke with 180 workers who called their hotline.
Reports include a worker who hit his head in a bunkhouse and suffered vision problems who was later allegedly threatened for asking the Mexican consulate for help to fill out a workplace accident report.
Another complaint dealt with a situation where only workers sick enough to the point they couldn’t get up for work would receive a COVID-19 test.
MWAC said in one case it received a phone call from the ICU asking for translation from a worker about to be placed on a ventilator. The worker didn’t have his phone to contact his family and it’s not clear if they knew his condition.
The report also included complaints about cramped living quarters and not enough bathrooms.
“Many workers who did not want to travel to Canada during the global pandemic were risking their lives,” said Karen Cocq with MWAC at a press conference via video conferencing.
MWAC said two workers have died from COVID-19 in the Windsor-Essex area and another two are currently in the ICU.
Among the most urgent of the group’s 17 recommendations, MWAC said it wants migrant workers made permanent Canadian residents because it said this would be a way for them to assert their rights.
Holland Marsh Growers’ Association says they ‘haven’t seen any confirmed cases’
Holland Marsh Growers’ Association represents 126 farmers and said that so far its workers have been spared from COVID-19.
“We have been very lucky. We haven’t seen any confirmed cases,” executive director Jody Mott told CTV News Toronto Monday.
Mott said that every Wednesday she connects with officials who relay information about the need to keep people on farms safe and responds when necessary.
“As soon as we get a question, we call the call the health unit or the ministry of labour to get clarification to help these growers so they have the proper COVID plans to keep the workers safe,” Mott said.
Smith Gardens in East Gwillimbury employs 14 migrant workers from Jamaica.
Grower Paul Smith said workers’ temperatures are checked and logged daily and when they start work, they immediately wash their hands.
Smith said he also purchased a new trailer to house workers this season. Each one shelters about three workers.
He said by following guidelines, he’s avoided COVID-19 at his farm so far.
“It’s everybody’s interest to be so strict. With a farm we don’t get do-overs and if we don’t do everything right and everyone’s not healthy we will not live to fight another day,” he told CTV News Toronto Monday.
In a statement issued Monday evening, the Ontario government said they have been working “to ensure that worker and employer safety is prioritized, protected and preserved.”
“Nothing is more important than protecting the health and well-being of Ontarians, including all farm workers,” a spokesperson for the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs said. “Since first learning of COVID-19, Ontario has taken decisive action to stop the spread of this deadly virus and ensure the health and safety of Ontario’s workers by providing education, support, advice and enforcement as needed.”
The PC government has said there have been 158 COVID-19-related inspections in the agriculture sector between March 11th and June 8.
The inspections were conducted before and after the mandatory 14-day isolation period for migrant workers entering Canada.