Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW) is urgently demanding action from both the province of Ontario and the government of Canada with respect to the dignity of migrant workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. To date, neither level of government has provided any clear communication or policy announcements regarding this structurally precarious and vulnerable population. Their housing conditions are often crowded, which could be devastating in the event of COVID-19 transmission. We urgently demand answers on what steps both levels of government will take to ensure this pandemic does not disproportionately impact equity-seeking communities.
Our healthcare system should support well-being for all, irrespective of immigration status. COVID-19 affects both those who have and do not have health cards. Migrants with unequal access to healthcare will be more susceptible to sickness. Waiting period requirements and health card requirements should be waived immediately. No worker should be repatriated, terminated or deported for falling ill or sick at work because of this current pandemic.
Access to Employment Insurance must protect all workers. We echo the pragmatic demands made by our labour and community partners (e.g. waiving the 1-week waiting period and qualifying hours requirement for EI; providing special supports for workers not normally entitled to EI, such as contractors and gig workers, etc.). We urge you to also consider specific protections for all temporary foreign workers including:
- Open permits and expedited visa and LMIA process so that laid off or terminated migrant workers can seek other work in agriculture or other industries;
- The implementation of action teams to assist vulnerable workers in accessing EI, including services in their own language;
- Removing barriers to access to learning and educational opportunities provided by the EI fund;
- Ensuring that all migrants with 900 series social insurance numbers have access to both regular and special benefits both here in Canada and their home country.
- For workers who have been employed in Canada but are being denied the ability to return to work, EI funds should be made available to provide income support.
Provincially, we echo the call for the reinstatement of paid sick days for all workers. Workers must also be provided proper rest periods and breaks and other protections enshrined under employment standards. We strongly oppose any form of divide and rule practices that may lead to the exemption of agricultural workers from these important benefits. As an occupational health and safety issue, employers must cover the cost of safety equipment and hygiene products to protect workers from infection. Ministry of Labour inspectors should be undertaking unannounced proactive inspections in the interest of protecting the well-being of some of the most vulnerable members of our workforce. In the event that employers neglect to provide relevant supports for workers, public health should steps in to provide those supports.
In his public address, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke about his ability to use technology to continue his work. Not every worker has this luxury. We demand to know what steps the federal and provincial governments will undertake to ensure access to the internet is universal. There is strong concern that precarious workers will face significant data overcharges during this crisis.
Echoing the words of Dr. Michael Ryan, the Executive Director of the World Health Organization “We cannot forget migrants, we can not forget undocumented workers . . . The only way to beat this [COVID-19] is to leave no one behind… So when we talk about stigma we also need to avoid that, but we need to avoid exclusion as well. We’re in this together and I hope we can finish this together.”
In closing, pandemics always have a human face. Our concern is how migrant workers may be vilified and criminalized as a result of COVID-19. We strongly condemn any attempts to scapegoat migrant workers or to implement policies that negatively and disproportionately impact migrant workers across Canada.