Workers speak out for International Migrants Day: open letter

The below letter is compiled from workers at farms where there are ongoing COVID outbreaks, and includes the workers’ own words in a second short letter.

TO:     Cabinet Committee on COVID-19 

The Right Hon. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister
The Hon. Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister, and Committee Chair
The Hon. Jean-Yves Duclos, President of the Treasury Board, and Committee Vice-chair
The Hon. Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry
The Hon. Bill Morneau, Minister of Finance
The Hon. Melanie Joly, Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages
The Hon. Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion
The Hon. Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health
The Hon. Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
The Hon. Kirsty Duncan, Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Ontario Command Table COVID-19

The Hon. Doug Ford, Premier of Ontario
The Hon. Christine Elliott, Minister of Health
The Hon. Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Long-Term Care
The Hon. Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development
Helen Angus, Deputy Minister of Health, and Chair of the Command Table
Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health, Public Health Ontario
Dr. Peter Donnelly, President & CEO

RE: OUTBREAKS AT ONTARIO FARMS AND WORKERS’ RESPONSES

Today, on International Migrants’ Day, it angers us to report that there are multiple COVID-19 outbreaks at farms across Ontario. Some of these farms have had multiple outbreaks since the start of this pandemic. Since we last wrote in support of migrant farmworkers, who numbered in the thousands during the first wave, the province and federal governments have taken little to no action. Their only actions to date have been to provide funds to the employers, who we have repeatedly stated are not doing enough to protect their workers.

The following letter provides an overview of workers’ concerns. They have decided to speak about the conditions they are still made to work under, or quarantined within, because neither their employers nor provincial nor federal officials have taken this pandemic seriously enough. We have anonymized their names and their employers to protect workers’ safety.

All the workers we spoke to have stated that there are many cases of COVID at their workplace. Yet, their employers have either refused to disclose this information, or they have taken steps to protect themselves (through quarantine), while forcing their workers to continue reporting for work. One worker stated that their employer has known about outbreaks in their workplace for months, and yet only informed workers about the newest outbreak this month. Another worker only learned of COVID-positive cases in their workplace from other workers who tested positive. Some workers do not know their COVID status because their employers have not allowed them to get tested if they are not showing symptoms, or else have tested them and have not informed them of their own test results. Many workers are working without knowing whether they are COVID positive.

Multiple workers spoke of a lack of appropriate COVID-19 protocols, both in their workplaces and in the shared accommodations provided to them by their employers. Some worked with appropriate social distancing, but others had no such protections and worked in close contact with co-workers who later tested positive for COVID. At their bunkhouses, multiple people share bedrooms, kitchens, and bathrooms. Some report dozens of people using common spaces without appropriate sanitation.

Workplace protections must go beyond providing PPE, as employers are still not taking appropriate measures to sanitize workplaces, and are placing the onus on workers to take responsibility for COVID outbreaks, rather than addressing systemic workplace issues. This has created a stressful and toxic working environment, where workers are concerned for their health, and for their jobs if they are believed to violate workplace policies.

One worker reported that they were given a warning when they refused to rewear dirty masks. Other farm employers provided almost nothing at the beginning of the pandemic, forcing workers to rely on their own funds for appropriate PPE. The disinfection processes used at some greenhouses are not safe to work within, and yet a worker stated that they were made to return to freshly sprayed greenhouses and breathe unsafe air.

In the midst of COVID concerns, workers continue to deal with long-standing health and safety issues. They work long hours with few breaks, including bathroom breaks, and receive warnings if they take time off for their own health and in light of the exhausting, thankless work they do. They are told to work with chemicals they are not properly protected to use, and for long periods that are hazardous to their health – they report having skin irritation and respiratory problems, among other issues. When they inform their employers about these issues, their concerns are dismissed, or worse – they face reprisal.

The workers who spoke to us understand that their employers care more about profits than they do about the health and safety of their workers. While their employers get tested, stay quarantined, and deny COVID outbreaks to Ministry of Labour investigators, workers are told to report to work – in the conditions we illustrated above.

The workers want Canadians to know how they are being treated. Migrant farmworkers come to Canada on closed (tied) work permits, and work to support their families back home. They cannot change their employer except by applying for the open work permit for vulnerable workers, which creates additional institutional and bureaucratic barriers. Employers can take advantage of workers’ precarity and know that workers have little power to change their circumstances.

Workers have stated that this is slavery. They know that if they speak up about their treatment, they can easily be terminated and can be blacklisted from Canada’s agricultural worker programs, so they can never return to Canada for work. Some have reported that workers who have engaged in work stoppages to protest their treatment do not know whether they will be called back for the next season, now that they have been sent home.

Collectively, the workers demand the following:

  • That the government shuts down farms where there are COVID outbreaks;
  • That workers are quarantined and paid during this time, whether or not they test positive for COVID;
  • The provision of paid sick days;
  • That social distancing and disinfection protocols are implemented at workplaces and in bunkhouses to reduce the risk of transmission;
  • That employers are honest and open about COVID-19 outbreaks and workers’ COVID statuses;
  • That consular officials advocate for worker safety and protection;
  • That there are proactive inspections and changes to workplace laws that protect workers;
  • That migrant workers in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program are provided with open work permits and permanent status on arrival.

Migrant farmworkers want fair treatment and respect, which they deserve as human beings. This letter is to alert you, once again, to their concerns, which are anonymized to protect their safety. We urge you to take immediate action in protecting them, and to hold their employers accountable so that the responsibility for curbing the spread of the pandemic does not fall on workers, who have been made vulnerable by the system that brought them to Canada.

Sincerely,

Justicia/Justice for Migrant Workers

RE: OPEN LETTER FROM MIGRANT WORKERS IMPACTED BY COVID OUTBREAKS

We are workers from farms where there are current covid outbreaks. We want to express what we felt during this time of pandemic.

What we only want is fair treatment from our employer, manager and all the persons in charge.

As of now, we are waiting for word from them to inform us about what is happening to our farm. We learned that some of our co-workers are positive for the Coronavirus. That information came from those people who tested positive. While the office is still denying that fact. What they want from us workers is to continue working as long as we don’t have symptoms. They are only thinking of the company’s income and forget about the workers safety and welfare.

Same as PR and Canadian citizens, we are humans too that are prone to the virus. We are expecting them to come and disinfect the place where the positive  workers stay while they are working here, but no action at all.

They told us to work if no symptoms and if we want to make sure, we can do swab testing but no pay at all if it turns out negative.

We are addressing these concerns to the people who are willing to help and hope the government would consider us Migrant Workers too, that what we want is respect from you people. Just for humanitarian consideration, we came here to work for our family back home and to earn a living.

Not considering the abuse they are doing during work. Hope the government comes and asks us  workers about our situation. We want to cry out for help but there is this fear that if we talk, our employer will kick us out from the company, considering that we have closed permits. Without status is a big problem for us MIGRANT WORKERS.

We are the people who are greatly affected from this pandemic. And hoping this will reach the government.

Thank you.

ACTION: Send a letter to Ministers – Trinidadian workers need government support benefits now!

As reported by the Toronto Star today, right now, hundreds of migrant farm workers from Trinidad and Tobago are stranded in Canada.

Their contracts have now come to an end as their services are no longer needed in winter. These workers are unable to go back home to their families because of travel restrictions by their sending country. They are stuck here in the Canadian cold with no form of income support and no assistance of any kind from the Trudeau government. These workers are being forced to spend precious holiday time far away from their families, with no income, no shelter, no winter clothing.

Please join us in calling on Ministers to take action NOW.

The following email template makes it easy — just enter your contact info and click “send”!

 

Over 100 migrant farm workers from Trinidad & Tobago are stuck in Canada. When will the federal government step up?

As reported by the CBC, more than 100 migrant agricultural workers from Trinidad and Tobago have been stuck in Canada and can’t get home because of COVID-19 concerns. They now have to endure the Canadian winter with no access to any kind of income support. Justicia for Migrant Workers sent the following letter to hold decision-makers accountable. We invite you to do the same — feel free to adapt our letter and use the email addresses below.

***

Open Letter re: Stranded Migrant Workers from Trinidad and Tobago

TO:     The Honourable Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development (Ahmed.Hussen@parl.gc.ca)

The Honourable Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees & Citizenship (Marco.Mendicino@parl.gc.ca)

The Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion (Carla.Qualtrough@parl.gc.ca)

December 7, 2020

Dear Honourable Ministers Hussen, Mendicino, and Qualtrough,

In March 2020, when the pandemic hit the world, your government deemed foreign seasonal farm workers to be essential and took exceptional steps in getting the workers into Canada from the Caribbean and Mexico. You then made them work under hazardous conditions with minimal support, all to ensure that Canadian farmers could make profits and so Canada gets local food on the table. Now, when they are no longer needed by the farmers because of the weather, you have abandoned these racialized migrant farm workers.

Hundreds of workers from Trinidad and Tobago have toiled through the harvest this year through the Seasonal Agricultural Work Program (SAWP). Their contracts have now come to an end as their services are no longer needed in winter. These workers are unable to go back home to their families because of COVID concerns. They are stuck here in the Canadian cold with no form of income support and no assistance of any kind from your government. They have to pay for rent, for food, for clothing and all basic necessities with no income.

Their situation is particularly unconscionable because these workers are eligible for Employment Insurance as per the regulations, which they have paid into during their service for your country, and yet Service Canada refused to use their discretion in granting them the benefits (Phone call meeting between J4MW and Service Canada December 4, 2020).

Service Canada went so far to advise that the workers should pay the fees for their work permits, even though, as per IRCC directives for seasonal farm workers and the interstate bilateral agreements, it is the employer that pays for the work permit. At the same time, migrant workers who do hold a valid work permit and have already submitted their applications for EI have received negative decisions from Service Canada, stating that because they hold a closed work permit, “they are not ready and available for work”.

In De Jesus v. Canada (AG) 2013 FCA 264, a case that dealt with parental EI benefits, the Federal Court of Appeal stated:

[13] The unique disadvantages in the Canadian labour market of agricultural workers as a whole, and migrant workers in particular, are well known. These disadvantages commonly include: ineligibility for many social benefits, including most unemployment insurance benefits; exclusion from many statutory protections of workers (including representation by a union); low educational level, functional illiteracy, and lack of knowledge of English or French; social isolation, and lack of access to telephones, computers, and urban centres; long and arduous working schedules with little free time; and fear of employer reprisal and deportation

[14] Like other employees, SAWP workers have employment insurance contributions deducted from their pay cheques. Unlike most other employees, however, they are generally ineligible for benefits, including regular employment insurance benefits, because they leave Canada at the end of their seasonal employment, and cease to be available for work or present in Canada. [emphasis added]

The SAWP workers are currently present in Canada and are therefore eligible for regular benefits as per the reasoning of the Federal Court of Appeal.  Yet, Service Canada refuses to grant them EI benefits by foisting the blame on IRCC/ESDC.

Furthermore, the Principles of Benefit Entitlement clearly states that

[A] claimant who does not currently possess a work permit is not automatically considered unavailable for work. In some cases, the claimant may be able to obtain a work permit as soon as employment is secured, because of the type of work they perform, or because of the individual’s skills. Consequently, the lack of a work permit is not the only factor to be considered when determining availability. The Commission must take into account all factors normally considered when determining a claimant’s availability.

[Digest of Benefit Entitlement Principles Chapter 10 – Section 10.2.4]

In many cases, the Tribunal has found that if the worker has taken “prompt and reasonable steps” to search for work and obtain employment, especially under circumstances beyond their control, they are eligible for EI even if their work permit has expired (See e.g. O. O. v Canada Employment Insurance Commission, 2019 SST 868; Canada Employment Insurance Commission  v. L.B., AD-13-1140).

Service Canada’s fettering of their discretion, in the face of precedent and their own principle, is a grave injustice and a perversion of the rule of law. These Trinidadian workers have gone above and beyond in taking “prompt and reasonable steps” to obtain status in Canada, even under the most extenuating circumstances beyond their control, and in fact beyond the control of the entire world as the battle against the pandemic continues. They are stuck in Canada because they are being prevented from traveling due to the pandemic.

In their desperate situation, they have pressured their government to send directives to their employers to process their LMIAs (which allows them to get a work permit) and to ask ESDC and IRCC to process them at the earliest (Notice from the Government of Trinidad and Tobago to employers, December 1, 2020). They have tried to find employers who can process their LMIAs. They have sought support for accessing benefits. As such, they have done everything humanly possible in this unforeseeable situation to show they are searching for work and are available for work. They are being made to endure circumstances that simply should not be tolerated in Canada. It is unconscionable that Service Canada is not responding to the situation and providing them with prompt benefits.

The Tax Court of Canada, in a case concerning Guatemalan workers in the agri-food industry, has held that the employment contracts of foreign workers are valid and the workers are eligible for employment insurance even if they do not comply with the work permit (Godoy Enriquez v. M.N.R., 2019 TCC 114).  The Court found that “the prohibition on work by foreign nationals without a permit is intended primarily to protect job opportunities for Canadian citizens and to prevent collective bargaining from being obstructed by the hiring of foreign nationals.” [(para 85)]. The Court stated that as per Canada’s obligation under international instruments, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Canada has an obligation to protect the rights of workers to social security, including employment insurance (paras 91-93). Thus, according to the Court’s reasoning, the interpretation of IRPA, taking into account its objectives and principles, mandates that workers cannot be denied their right to EI and other benefits.

The Court further affirms that migrant farm workers “are a beneficial and critical human resource for both the economy and the greater good of all Canadians” (para 95), “an enrichment, and even a fundamental necessity to the stability and development of Canada’s agri‑food industry” (112) and that it is “a matter of general interest for Canadian society” that their important contribution to the Canadian economy be recognized and it is “unacceptable” to exclude them and abandon seasonal workers (paras 95, 14 emphasis added). The Court asserted that “it is urgent and imperative that the government… respond to seasonal workers’ problems and concerns before they arrive, upon their arrival and throughout their time in Canada” (para 14 emphasis added).  It is therefore appalling that Service Canada has instead abandoned them in the midst of a pandemic and the onset of winter.

Honourable Minister Hussen, you personally have strongly come out against Anti-Black racism and systemic racism within Canada’s borders. You said: “… the sooner we acknowledge [systemic racism], the sooner we amplify the voices of those who feel that sting of discrimination of racism as part of their lived reality, the sooner we’ll be able to tackle it and to eradicate it [Toronto Star, June 3rd 2020].” Yet, the very Ministry you lead, practices and embeds systemic racism against Black and racialized migrant workers, by discriminating against them and denying them the benefits they are entitled to, that they have paid into, during their time doing essential farm labour in Canada. We urge you to acknowledge the discrimination they face.

Honourable Ministers, the workers cannot wait anymore, insecure and without income, as you play jurisdictional football with them. We demand that you make the decision to pay the workers who are currently in Canada Employment Insurance benefits before December 10th. Any further delay is an abuse of process, abuse of discretion, and denial of natural justice.

Honourable Ministers Qualtrough and Mendicino, you have made the workers wholly reliant on their employers by making the work permit conditional on LMIAs. You have not even exempted the work permit processing fees. These workers are being forced to spend precious holiday time in Canada far away from their families, in the Canadian winter, with no income, no shelter, no clothing.  Instead of showing gratitude and compassion you have made the situation into a travesty where in their time of need, the workers are put in a worse situation of oppression and disempowerment. How are you even justifying your action? We demand that the stranded workers be immediately given open work permits,  with no conditions of requiring LMIAs to work in Canada and with no repercussions or administrative hurdles that would affect their future return to Canada.  We demand that the permit fees be waived for these workers. We also demand that they be given permanent residence status.

This incident concerning the Trinidadian workers cannot be seen as an isolated, unfortunate event; it is the outcome of a system of discrimination and oppression that is perpetuated by Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker programs in agriculture.  Migrant agricultural workers are crucial to the functioning of the agricultural industry functioning. Many of these workers have been returning to work at the same farm each year, for many years. It is estimated that SAWP workers pay an estimated $21.5 million annually in EI premiums and have paid billions of dollars into EI since 1966, which have supported Canadian workers for decades, even as your Ministries exclude them from ever availing of the benefit through the application of discriminatory and racist regulations. The people who grow our fruits and vegetables, the people who put food on our tables, should not face perpetual impoverishment because of an unpredictable climate, and even more so, during a pandemic. We cannot simply ignore their calls for justice. Do you find it easier to do so because they are “racialized foreign migrant workers” who the government has wilfully invisibilized?

The legacy of colonialism continues to drive thousands of migrants to Canada in search of work, who your government takes advantage of, thus perpetuating colonialism and racism. In fact, just last week, the Federal Government has increased the program by expanding the definition of Primary Agriculture. This expanded definition implies that you will be excluding greater numbers of racialized migrant farm workers from basic employment standards and benefits, even as they contribute billions of dollars to the economy and revenue. This racial apartheid cannot continue.

We therefore call on the government to:

  1. Reverse all decisions denying regular EI benefits to migrant farm workers, that were made on the basis that they were unavailable to work because of their work permit status. Award benefits to all workers who have applied immediately;
  2. Remove the conditions predicating access to regular EI benefits on their work permit and their physically being in Canada. Provide equal access to the regular employment insurance benefits for migrant workers, after they go back to their countries, through the development of interstate agreements between the governments of Canada and the countries from which migrant workers originate. This access can be modelled on similar agreements that already exist with the United States and inter-state agreements globally;
  3. Restore migrant workers’ access to special EI entitlements including parental, maternity and compassionate benefits;
  4. Provide migrant workers with access to training and education and all social and income benefits in Canada and when they are back in their home countries;
  5. Waive all fees for applications for work permits for farm work.
  6. Provide all workers arriving in Canada under SAWP or the Agricultural Streams with open work permits that are not dependent on LMIAs.
  7. Provide them with permanent residence status on arrival.

Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW)

Day of the Dead/Día de los Muertos celebrations November 1st: Join us in Leamington and online

Mexican altar with flowers, candles, and photographs commemorating deceased migrant agricultural workers

Justicia for Migrant Workers 2013 Day of the Dead altar to commemorate migrant workers killed on the job in Canada.

To honour all the deaths of migrant farm workers who have died in Canada and in their home countries, Justice for Migrant Workers is hosting two Day of the Dead events on Sunday, November 1st.

These events build on the longstanding work of Justicia activist and artist Tzazná Miranda Leal, who for years has established an altar in honour of deceased migrant agricultural workers at Wychwood Barns in Toronto.

In particular, we invite you to hold your hearts three Mexican migrant agricultural workers who died in Ontario this year due to COVID-19 and the government’s failure to prioritize worker safety: Bonifacio Eugenio Romero (31), Rogelio Muñoz Santos (24), and Juan Lopez Chaparro (55). ¡Presente!

In-person, outdoor, physically distanced altar in Leamington, Ontario

  • 12pm-6pm on Sunday, 1 November
  • Meet at the Giant Tomato (72 Talbot St West)

Digital Day of the Dead Celebration

  • Sunday, November 1st online
  • Take part in our virtual celebration of the three Mexican migrant agricultural workers who died due to COVID-19.
  • Please include Bonifacio Eugenio Romero, Rogelio Muñoz Santos, and Juan Lopez Chaparro on your ofrenda/altar, honouring them in a way that resonates with you.
  • We invite you to share photos of your altar with us on social media. Tag us @harvestingfreedom (instagram), or @j4mw (Twitter).

Call to support an injured farm worker this Thanksgiving

Tashoy is a migrant worker in Ontario who was injured on the job a few years ago. His hand was crushed in a piece of machinery used to pack cucumbers.

Justice for Migrant Workers is asking people with the means to donate to Tashoy to support his and his family’s living expenses. Donating in solidarity with migrant workers is a concrete way to express gratitude for migrant members of our community who grow food and other crops. Supporting struggles for Indigenous sovereignty and land repatriation is also an important way to mark this date.

You can donate to Tashoy at the link below until 18 October. Please write “Tashoy” in the note: https://www.paypal.com/donate/?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=T75F2A8TFNV4E

 

Background

Migrant workers hired through the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program pay taxes that support the social safety net — just like Canadian citizens and permanent residents. However, if they become ill or injured on the job, it can be very difficult for migrant agricultural workers to access the same benefits as Canadians because they are deportable and have visas that are ‘tied’ to one employer.

It’s been a few years since Tashoy’s injury and he is still fighting – the system is designed to prevent migrant workers from getting justice.

Harvest season brings a bounty of fresh produce and other agricultural crops to people in Canada, along with countries that import Canadian goods. Simultaneously, Canadian agriculture is rife with unsafe working conditions for  farm workers who pick those vegetables, with unique risks for migrant workers. This is the time of year when we see countless workers like Tashoy get injured on the job; in some instances they are repatriated by their employers with no grievance mechanism.

If you can, please donate in solidarity with Tashoy here by 18 October!

Join us at our upcoming ‘Digital Day of Action’

Last month, we hosted a ‘Digital Day of Action’ for migrant worker rights in partnership with CaterToronto. We were amazed at the response and engagement from community, and inspired by the collective impact we were able to achieve working together.

On September 7th, we received 167 new signatures on our petition. Over the next week, over 450 new community members followed us on Instagram to learn more about migrant worker rights.

With COVID-19 continuing to impact workers’ lives on a daily basis, and a lack of meaningful action from the Canadian government, we need to continue this work. It’s time to take matters into our own hands.

We will be hosting another ‘Digital Day of Action’ on October 18th, 2020 at 10AM. To register and receive the Zoom link, click through to our Eventbrite page here.

Once you’ve registered, take the extra step in helping us promote the ‘Digital Day of Action’. Here’s how you can support:

  1. Download one of the graphics in this folder – each of the graphics is an image of a local migrant workers’ hands.
  2. Take a photo of your own hands – holding food, cooking, gardening, cleaning up, etc.
  3. Post these photos in an image set on Instagram or other social media platforms.
  4. In your caption, write (something along these lines): “I stand in solidarity with migrant workers across the country. Join me.  Take action and #GetYourHandsDirty at Justicia’s Digital Day of Action on October 18th.”

Show solidarity with Erika and Jesus, who were repatriated after receiving a delivery of food!

Erika and Jesus, two migrant agricultural workers from Mexico.

Erika and Jesus, two migrant agricultural workers from Mexico, were recently repatriated from a farm in Kelowna simply because they received a delivery of food and clothes.

Erika Zavala and Jesus Molina, both migrant farmworkers from Mexico, were recently fired from a B.C. farm simply because they received a delivery of cultural food and work clothes.

They are devastated after losing their income for the season. Erika and Jesus had been counting on working in Canada until October to support their children and elderly parents. The shutdown of the Mexican economy due to COVID-19 has severely reduced opportunities for jobs back home, and there is no government support. You can read more about their story in The Guardian.

This Labour Day, one very meaningful way you can show solidarity with migrant agricultural workers is by donating to help Erika and Jesus cover their lost income: https://www.gofundme.com/f/show-solidarity-with-erika-and-jesus

We are enormously thankful to everyone who has donated so far in this GoFundMe fundraiser coordinated with our friends at RAMA Okanagan. It also means a lot to Erika and Jesus to know that so many people in Canada care about them. All funds raised go directly to Erika and Jesus.

Can you help us reach the final stretch of our fundraising goal?

If it’s within your means, we welcome donations here.

Join us in #puttingraceonthetable

Over the past few months, more and more people have been engaging in conversations about how racism and colonialism are embedded in our country’s policies and institutions. Join Justice for Migrant Workers as we extend the threads of this conversation to Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program. 

The SAWP is a prime example of state-sanctioned exploitation of and violence against Indigenous, Black, and Brown bodies, disguised as “progressive” immigration policy. It’s time to call out the Canadian government.

We need to talk about why so few Canadians know who grows their food. We need to talk about the deplorable housing conditions migrant workers live in on-farm; about why they fear speaking up about unsafe workplaces; and, why they are forced to continue working for abusive employers. We need to talk about why almost all of those workers are Black and Brown. 

Help us raise awareness about the SAWP’s racist and colonial roots. How you can be a part of our #puttingraceonthetable social media campaign:

  1. Download one of these four Justice for Migrant Workers graphic packets (1 folder = 1 packet).
  2. Take a photo of food – any food works (your plate, a shelf at the grocery store, a veggie garden, etc.).
  3. Share your food pic paired with the Justice for Migrant Workers graphic packet in a photo set using #puttingraceonthetable in your caption.
  4. Tag us in your post – @harvestingfreedom on Instagram, @J4MW on Twitter.

Here’s an example of what that should look like:

Your participation in this campaign will help us get the conversation started. It will also help us get folks to register for our upcoming Digital Day of Action on September 7th. If you haven’t already signed up, put your name down at the link here to join us for a facilitated hour of putting pressure on the government for migrant worker rights.

Good news on DNA class action certification

Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW) applauds the work of Goldblatt Partners LLP in achieving certification of the Granger case as a class action.

On Thursday July 9th, 2020 the Superior Court of Justice for Ontario ruled that the class action can proceed to a hearing on its merits. In October and November 2013, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) conducted a DNA sweep targeting Caribbean migrant farm workers while searching for a suspect involved in a criminal investigation. The class action proceedings were initiated by migrant worker Mickey Granger regarding the permanent retention of his DNA and that of approximately 100 other migrant workers involved in the DNA sweep.

You can read more about the background info for this case here.

Instead of focusing their search on the specific suspect description, the OPP engaged in an extremely broad DNA sweep that included racialized migrant workers who clearly did not match the suspect profile. DNA samples were taken from approximately 100 Indo and Afro-Caribbean men whose ages ranged from 21 to 61, whose heights ranged from 5’0” to 6’5”, and whose body sizes ranged between 130 lbs to 310 lbs. Other identifying features (e.g. hair style) were also disregarded. Workers were targeted even though they did not fit the suspect description. A human rights complaint was filed for 54 migrant workers regarding how the DNA was collected by the OPP.

“This is a significant advance on behalf of the migrant farmworkers who were impacted by the OPP’s DNA sweep. J4MW will continue to advocate on behalf of 54 of these individuals in a concurrent proceeding at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) to ensure that the racial discrimination underlying this case is appropriately addressed,” says Justicia for Migrant Workers activist and lawyer Shane Martinez, who is representing the workers in the HRTO proceedings.

In an era of outcry over racist and racialized policing, J4MW will continue to fight against injustices that occur to migrant workers in rural communities. The lack of accountability and oversight are not only issues of concern in urban settings, but racial injustice is inherent to the structures that enable migrant workers to be employed in rural communities across Canada.

“J4MW will fight anywhere and everywhere that racialized policing is used to specifically target racialized working class communities,” says Gabriel Allahdua. “Whether it’s fought in the streets or the courts, J4MW continues to strongly condemn the practice of DNA sweeps, the invasive collection and retention practices and how it’s used to specifically target Black, Indigenous, Racialized and working class communities.”

The OPP targeted the migrant worker community of Bayham, Ontario because of their precarious immigration status. They also believed that no one would hold them accountable for their actions. They were wrong! No more DNA sweeps, End Racial profiling, end racist policing and end police brutality!

Four ways you can take action in support of farm workers’ demands for dignity

Remember that video we shared of twelve workers crammed into a bunkhouse separated by flimsy cardboard? Here’s the backstory — and four ways you can take action in support of workers’ demands for dignity.

Aphria Inc., Canada’s cannabis powerhouse, recently claimed that they stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement:

Screen Shot 2020-06-18 at 7.35.35 AM

But this statement of solidarity appears to conflict with concerns raised by migrant agricultural workers employed at their facility, and through their choice of companies to partner with.

According to workers, most of those employed in Aphria’s greenhouse are migrants employed under Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program, which allows employers to hire predominantly Latinx and Black workers from the global south.

Greenhouse workers at Aphria have shared the following:

  • While non-greenhouse workers received an additional dollar of pay per hour during the pandemic, greenhouse workers are excluded from this premium.
  • Workers have complained about health & safety concerns in the workplace related to COVID-19, such as an inability to physically distance in communal spaces (i.e. the lunch room).

Furthermore, Aphria has a partnership with Double Diamond Produce. In 2013 Double Diamond was found to be in violation of Ontario’s Human Rights Code for racial discrimination against Adrian Monrose, a migrant farm worker from St. Lucia who identifies as Afro-Caribbean. The tribunal found that an owner and supervisor at Double Diamond subjected Monrose and his co-workers to racial slurs, and then fired him and repatriated him to St. Lucia when he complained about the treatment. In a landmark decision the Tribunal awarded order Double Diamond to pay him over $23,000 as human rights damages and lost wages. It also ordered the company to institute a human rights policy, and required all supervisors at Double Diamond to complete human rights training. The decision can be read here.

Recently another brave migrant farm worker exposed the housing conditions at Double Diamond, as seen in a widely-shared video. Workers are alleging that the company did not implement adequate measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.

These kinds of conditions, where workers have no reasonable opportunity to physically distance, are why hundreds of migrant workers on other farms have gotten sick with COVID-19. To date two migrant workers have tragically died.

The workers at Double Diamond and Aphria demand:

  • Access to Personal Protective Equipment upon request;
  • Sanitizing of the workplace and living quarters multiple times a day;
  • Dignified and safe living conditions, including ample space for physical distancing;
  • Collaboration with workers in developing a rigorous COVID-19 plan;
  • Immediate isolation of workers suspected of having COVID-19;
  • Hazard pay for all workers, retroactive to the start of the State of Emergency; and
  • Commitments by the employers to ensure that no reprisals are taken against workers who exercise their rights in speaking out for equitable and safe workplaces.

TAKE ACTION!

Justicia for Migrant Workers is asking you to show your support for workers through the following four actions:

ACTION 1

Phone 1-844-427-4742, email info@aphria.com and irwin.simon@aphria.com, and tweet Aphria (@aphriainc) to demand that Aphria:

  • Meet with workers and provide them with a safe route to voice their concerns (anonymously if necessary);
  • Give all workers employed during the pandemic a retroactive dollar increase as hazard pay;
  • End and prevent workplace practices that put workers’ health and safety at risk;
  • Explain: How does Aphria reconcile its purported commitment to Black Lives Matter with its business arrangement involving Double Diamond?
  • Provide safe and dignified accommodations for all migrant workers employed at Aphria, and require the same of your business partners.

Sample script:

It has come to our attention that your corporation recently declared your solidarity with the Black Lives Matters movement. We are concerned about your commitment to the fight against racial injustice while greenhouse workers at your workplace allege that they were recently denied a COVID-19 pay increase. Workers have also raised concerns regarding occupational health and safety issues both in the workplace and in their living conditions. 

We are showing solidarity today by demanding that all greenhouse workers retroactively receive the wage increase provided to other workers employed at Aphria. Furthermore it’s critical that you meet with the workers to address their concerns regarding working and living conditions, and describe what steps you will take to protect workers from COVID-19. 

Finally, it has also come to our attention that Aphria and Double Diamond have a relationship in the cannabis industry. As you may have seen in a recent video, farm workers are exposing deplorable housing conditions at Double Diamond. Furthermore, Double Diamond was found to have contravened the Ontario Human Rights Code when managers made racist slurs against Caribbean migrant farm workers. Migrant workers are demanding the following from Aphria:

  1. Meet with workers and provide them with a safe route to voice their concerns (anonymously if necessary);
  2. Give all workers employed during the pandemic a retroactive dollar increase as hazard pay;
  3. End and prevent workplace practices that put workers’ health and safety at risk;
  4. Explain: How does Aphria reconcile its purported commitment to Black Lives Matter with its business arrangement involving Double Diamond?
  5. Provide safe and dignified accommodations for all migrant workers employed at Aphria, and require the same of your business partners.

 

ACTION 2

Send a tweet to Ontario Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development, demanding they make and enforce mandatory standards to protect migrant workers and undertake to carry out frequent, unannounced, and proactive inspections of bunkhouses.

[Sample tweet: Migrant farmworkers across Ontario are getting sick because they can’t physically distance at work or in their bunkhouse. @montemcnaughton, why isn’t @ONlabour doing frequent, proactive, unannounced bunkhouse inspections? Workers need protections now!]

ACTION 3

Send a tweet to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and federal ministers demanding a wage boost and full permanent resident status now for migrant workers,

[Sample tweet: @justintrudeau @cquatro @marcomendicino @Mclaudebibeau Stop discriminating against #migrant workers! Why no essential pay or wage boost for #migrants? #statusnow for #migrantworkers ]

ACTION 4

Sign the petition at: https://harvestingfreedom.org/2020/05/07/petition-tell-the-ontario-government-farmworkers-need-urgent-protections/