Urgent and immediate steps are needed to protect farm workers: J4MW

To the Premier and members of the Ontario Command Table for COVID-19 

Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW) is writing to request urgent and immediate action is taken to protect the thousands of agricultural workers employed in the province of Ontario. With recent reports that there have been confirmed cases at two large farming operations Highline Mushrooms and Greenhill Produce, it is imperative that the province responds. J4MW is asking what steps will the province undertake to protect the interests of farm workers, and to protect the food supply chain. We urge the province to immediately suspend any agricultural workplace from operating until the workplace is fully sanitized and the workers are provided with full Personal Protective Equipment while at work. Furthermore workers should be paid full wages during the sanitization process. Finally it is imperative that MOL inspectors extend their inspections to include bunkhouses and all agricultural dwellings provided to farm workers. Finally it is also critical that the province develop a COVID 19 action plan to protect workers specifically in agriculture. 

J4MW is urging that the Province and the Ministry of Labour undertake these immediate steps to level the playing field so that all farm workers can be protected from the spread of the pandemic. These steps should include: 

  • Extend the wage boost to include farm workers in Ontario. 
  • Provide an expedited appeals process for migrant workers when filing complaints with respect to occupational health and safety and employment standards complaints. 
  • Migrant farm workers should be provided the ability to work so that they are not tied to a single employer.
  • Extend occupational health and safety legislation to include agricultural dwellings.
  • Strengthen anti reprisal protections to ensure workers are not fired for raising health and safety concerns or if they become sick or injured at work. 
  • Develop regulations to protect workers from heat stress, chemical or pesticide. exposure, confined spaces, working at heights and other occupational hazards.
  • Increase proactive and snap inspection on all farming operations across Ontario
  • Provide hazard pay, sick pay and other benefits to recognize the dangers associated with agricultural work. 
  • Recognize piece rate as an occupational health and safety hazard. 
  • Develop and implement occupational health and safety legislation that recognizes, race, racism, systemic discrimination and provides an equity analysis in determining which categories of workers are at greater risk of occupational hazards. 
  • 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.
  • End employer wage deductions for all personal protective equipment and develop regulations that ensure employers provide bathrooms, washing facilities and potable water for farm workers across Ontario. 
  • Strengthen migrant worker protection against recruitment fees by holding employers and recruiters jointly liable. 
  • End the exclusions to holiday pay, overtime pay, minimum hours of work provisions and the myriad of regulations that deny fairness to farmworkers. 

The issues raised in this letter are long standing requests that farm workers have been bringing forward for decades. To stamp out the spread of this pandemic then it is critical that structural changes are made to address the systemic power imbalances that exist in our fields. 

These structural inequities in agriculture work are exacerbated under the twin forces of the pandemic and harvesting pressures. It has therefore never been more imperative to provide the workers with all the rights and protections. Farm employers are receiving several benefits in the form of subsidies and other grants and other regulatory exemptions. It is time that the workers receive the benefits that are due to them and are valued for their essential labour. 

Justicia for Migrant Workers


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