Open Letter Re: Heat Stress

September 8, 2023

TO: Doug Ford
Premier of Ontario
Premier’s Office,
Room 281 Legislative Building, Queen’s Park
Toronto ON M7A 1A1

AND TO: Monte McNaughton
Minister of Labour. Immigration, Training and Skills Development
14th Floor, 400 University Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M7A 1T7

Justice for Migrant Workers (J4MW) is reiterating its previous demand that the provincial government implements immediate emergency protections for the tens of thousands of agricultural workers employed in Ontario.

On July 6th, 2023, J4MW released a public statement imploring the provincial government to take immediate actions to protect farm workers. The government responded stating that migrant farm workers were “heroes” who are protected by health and safety laws, “regardless of their passport.” In a second statement, the provincial government noted that “employers and supervisors have a duty to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker, including protection in hot environments.” 

This government must heed warnings from greenhouse workers such as Gilberto who are raising the flag regarding the impact of heat stress in their workplace. He says: 

I am from Guatemala, I have been working for the same company for 8 years. My family has a lot of needs, that is why I work under a guest program in Canada. I work in the nursery growing peppers.There is no drinking water available in the nursery, but the problem is that it contains a lot of chemicals, that is why we have to buy our own water. During the whole year, our employer gives us only one small water bottle, and that is not enough. There is a ventilation system in place, but it is simply not enough when the temperatures are too high.

Thank God nobody has fallen ill from the heat yet, but that is because people stop working if the heat is too much for them. The farm owner tells us to stop working if we can’t work in the heat, but the problem is that if we don’t work then we don’t make any money, so we have to endure the high temperatures.

The heat gets so bad that during our work, our clothes get soaked in our own sweat, and we have to constantly wring out our clothes so we can get rid of the sweat. It is horrible. I understand that there is nothing the employer can do to change the temperature, but he could give us as much clean and cold water as we want. The nursery owner could also pay us wages when we need to stop work because of the heat. We are not asking for much, just that we are treated the same as the citizens of the U.S or Canada, because they have no problems taking taxes from us without giving us the same rights.

Johnathon, a migrant worker from Trinidad and Tobago, also raises concerns regarding the extreme heat levels:

Hello, I would like to share a bit on  what my co-workers and myself are facing at the farm located in the Haldimand Norfolk region.. My name is Johnathon and I’ve been working in Canada’s agricultural fields for almost 12 yrs. I’ve harvested a lot of fruits and vegetables over the years. Apples, carrots, tomatoes and many others. I love it here in Canada but there are alot of serious issues and ill treatment farm workers face that no one is aware of and also the weather conditions we  have to work in. I’m almost certain 70-80% of Canada’s agricultural sector comes from the work of migrant workers, yet enough isn’t being done for us. My co-workers and I even had to work in temperatures of 38-45 degrees when a heat warning is in effect. 

A lot of us are afraid to raise any attention or speak out because we would be victimize or not be requested back to work the following year in Canada if we did. A few days ago whilst harvesting apples approximately around 2pm, management told the bin operators to remove the bins of apples out of the fields because they were getting sunburn. We honestly couldn’t believe it, so we said amongst ourselves, if the apples can get sunburn, what about us who are there working in bare heat with no shelter. A lot of workers that are on farms work in conditions that a normal Canadian citizen will never do. 

It affects us a lot both physically and mentally. Not because we are not beaten or whipped, we are being treated well. Employers also control farm workers mentally, by having us afraid to speak out, because we know that if we do, we would no longer be employed or be able to come to Canada to provide for our families. I’m hoping that the Government of Ontario and  Canada look into the major issues and problems along with the conditions that workers face on an everyday basis.

Thank you

The Ford government must end its inaction and enact protections to address occupational health and safety hazards such as heat stress, poor air quality, and chemical and pesticide exposure. Ontario provides no industry-specific regulations for agricultural workers, exacerbating an already crisis-level situation. To continue this inaction, to ignore the voices of farm workers and to subject a predominantly racialized workforce to differential treatment is the classic definition of environmental racism.

Farmworkers are raising the alarm regarding the hazards of air quality as well as the sweltering heat both in greenhouses and in the fields. Several workers have raised fears of the long term consequences of poor air quality resulting from the forest fires. Other workers are demanding action against the sweltering heat and potential health implications.

Justice for Migrant Workers (J4MW) is demanding the implementation of emergency measures including:

  • Workers who work in the heat must be central and key decision makers in any proposed regulations regarding heat stress;
  • Shutting down farms and paying workers in extreme crisis events;
  • Paying workers when they are not employed as a result of climate-related issues such as forest fires, extreme heat, major thunderstorms and heavy rain;
  • Enacting heat stress protections for workers that are enacted in the interest of workers;
  • Strengthening anti-reprisal measures and proactive inspections;
  • Implementing paid breaks and providing permanent paid sick days for agricultural workers;
  • Providing sufficient shelters, functioning bathrooms and drinking water for workers at the expense of the employer;
  • Providing first aid, hydration stations, and on-site medical support (RN or RPNs);
  • Permitting third party complaints at the Ontario Labour Relations Board;
  • Ending agricultural exclusions under the Employment Standards Act;
  • Incorporating race and gender analysis in both occupational health and safety and employment standards;
  • Ensuring that agricultural harvesters are being paid holiday pay;
  • Implementing clear trigger temperatures for extreme heat and humidity, including indoor temperatures (e.g., greenhouses); 
  • Preventive measures to avoid overheating that include: specific requirements for shade, acclimatization for new and returning workers, mandatory cool-down rest periods during high temperatures, along with access to preventive cool-down measures as needed;
  • Extend OSHA protections to cover agricultural worker accommodations;
  • Implement protections for both extreme heat and extreme cold temperature. 

Ford has the necessary tools to address long standing issues raised by farm workers. These are not new issues. It’s time to act. Immediate and urgent measures are required to end the structural violence farm workers endure as a result of legal exclusions that exist within Ontario’s legislative framework.

J4MW also reiterates our longstanding demands for: permanent status on arrival for migrant farm workers, an end to unilateral repatriations and disbarment, and equal access to entitlements such as EI and CPP.

Justice for Migrant Workers (J4MW) is an all volunteer collective that consists of current and former workers, labour and community activists and scholars who advocate for fairness, dignity and respect for agricultural workers.

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