Open letter to Workplace Safety Insurance Board regarding COVID19, workers compensation and migrant farm workers (Ontario)

Tom Teahen, CEO
Workplace Safety and Insurance Board
200 Front St. W
Toronto ON M5J 3J1
Dear Mr. Teahen,

I am writing to you on behalf of Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW) with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic. J4MW is writing to request urgent action by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board regarding migrant agricultural workers’ access to WSIB benefits during this crisis. We urge the WSIB to immediately:

Write to employers of migrant workers educating them on their duty to report COVID-19 infections and remind them of their Human Rights obligations for workers who report an accident or cluster to WSIB;

Communicate what protocols the WSIB has in place to isolate infected workers (and protect uninfected workers) if there is an outbreak in the bunkhouse or workplace; and

Enable injured and ill migrant workers to remain in Ontario for health care

Educate employers about their reporting and Code obligations

J4MW is urging you, in your capacity as CEO of the WSIB, to write a letter to every employer of migrant farm workers to remind them of their obligation to report every migrant farm worker that is diagnosed with both presumptive and confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Access to WSIB is especially important because of the differential treatment that exists for injured and sick migrant workers as a result of being tied to a restrictive work permit. Various levels of government deny migrant workers access to benefits and entitlements that are available to resident workers of this province. WSIB is all that many of these workers will have practical access to.

As you know, employers must report work-related injuries to WSIB per the Act and OPM 15-01-02 Employers’ Initial Accident-Reporting. Migrant farm workers have expansive WSIB coverage including while in flight, in their bunkhouses and while out doing grocery shopping per OPM 12-04-08 Foreign Agricultural Workers. This means that if workers contract COVID-19, it is virtually guaranteed to be work-related.

With migrant workers living in shared accommodations with very little ability to exert their rights given their tied work permit, these workers are highly susceptible during this pandemic. It is critical that the WSIB is proactive by ensuring that employers know of their reporting obligations

Further, it is imperative that the WSIB stress the anti-reprisal measures and enforcement mechanisms that exist under the Ontario Human Rights Code if workers face any form of reprisal for exercising their rights under the workers’ compensation system.

As thousands of migrants employed under the auspices of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program are to arrive in Ontario, time is of the essence that workers are not deterred nor discouraged by employers, recruiters, or government officials for filing WSIB, as this should be the main form of income and health care supports for migrant workers who become sick.

Communicate protocols for workplace clusters involving migrant workers

As workers both live and work in employer provided housing, it is vital that the WSIB communicate what protocols it has in place to isolate infected workers (and protect uninfected workers) if there is an outbreak in the bunkhouse or workplace. We are already seeing clusters forming in various bunkhouses across the country.

The federal government has mandated that workers go into quarantine for the first two weeks after they arrive. However, they have not identified what will happen in the event of a workplace cluster. This is Ontario’s job, and indeed, the WSIB’s job.

It is vital that you let us know how you will handle a cluster so that we can communicate it to our communities. During these times, information is key. We cannot stress how important it is that you communicate what protocols the WSIB will follow when a workplace cluster happens where migrant workers live and work.

Enable injured and ill migrant workers to remain in Ontario for health care

During this crisis there are opportunities to undertake proactive measures to ensure that no sick or injured worker is unfairly repatriated to their home country. It is of the utmost importance that injured and sick migrant workers are provided with the choice and means to remain in Ontario to ensure that they can receive full medical support to heal. We are extremely concerned that employers will repatriate migrant workers who become ill during this pandemic. The WSIB therefore needs to make sure that protections are in place to deter this from happening.

In closing, there have been many accolades directed to the numerous categories of essential workers who sacrifice their lives during this pandemic. Many are precarious workers often forgotten, ignored and silent whose contributions are not highlighted. Often employed under dirty, dangerous and deadly working conditions, we need to move beyond platitudes to ensure that no injured or sick worker is forgotten during this crisis, and that the necessary resources and support are accorded to them to protect their health and well-being at this particular moment.

Sincerely,
Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW)

2 thoughts on “Open letter to Workplace Safety Insurance Board regarding COVID19, workers compensation and migrant farm workers (Ontario)

  1. Is this letter on facebook somewhere? It should be so interested individuals can share it with their networks.

Leave a Reply to harvestingfreedom Cancel reply