Message from an anonymous migrant worker at Greenhill Produce

Justicia for Migrant Workers received this important message that we believe needs to be shared widely in light of recent reports about the outbreak COVID-19 at Greenhill Produce in Chatham-Kent, Ontario:

We the farm workers of Greenhill produce feel a bit outcast like we are the least  we feel a bit disrespect..guys test result positive and guys test result negative from Sunday April 22 and up to this date April 24 we the positive and the negative are living in the same house using the same utensils, same bathroom,doing everything like nothing is wrong only told they are following the health procedures..we ask for sanitizers to help kill the spreading of the virus in such a crowded place until now none. Thanks to God some guys always buy bleach that’s what we have to be using…we gave them food list we get what is the Canadian norm of shopping.

We want a voice we are so afraid to talk, we are afraid we get sent back home. This is our JOB this is how we survive this is how we take care of our family back home. Without this God help so we are grateful for the job we are happy for it but we need to be treated as equal as everyone. Liaison officers who should be our advocate we haven’t seen nor hear from them. We have to speak out for us we want to feel comfortable working that if we get injured we are treated equal. This could have been avoided this is a part of negligence. When workers took sick, they took too long before medical attention and still going to work then it spread…please please hear our cry.

No wage boost, no protections at work: J4MW demands action from Ontario to protect farm workers.

As the province announces a wage boost for some essential workers, migrant activist group Justice for Migrant Workers (J4MW) is demanding answers why are farm workers one of the most vulnerable groups excluded from these income supports. With recent news reports of the spread of the virus to some agricultural operations, J4MW is asking what steps will the province undertake to protect the interests of farm workers, and to protect the food supply chain.

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

  • Extend the wage boost to include all 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.

“These are long standing request that farm workers have been bringing up for decades” says Moilene Samuels an activist with Justice for Migrant Workers if we want to stamp out the spread of this pandemic then we need structural changes to address the systemic power imbalances that exist in our field.” continues Samuels

University of Windsor law professor Dr. Vasanti Venkatesh notes that “migrant farmworkers have been the lynchpin of the harvesting season and their contributions have become more crucial than ever as they provide Canada with food security during the pandemic. Yet, it is during harvesting season that the workers are given least protection, as they work numerous overtime hours without pay under hazardous living and working conditions”.

Venkatesh continues that “the 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.”

For further information please contact Chris Ramsaroop 647-834-4932

Twitter @j4mw

E-maill j4mw.on@gmail.com or harvestingfreedomcampaign@gmail.com

Honour Farm Workers today: Take part in the Pigeon Pages: Community Colouring Project

Today we’re excited to share, Pigeon Pages: A Community Colouring Project. This colouring book honours the hard work of essential farm workers during this pandemic.

Click here for a pdf version of the colouring book.

While it’s free for everyone, all proceeds from optional donations go to Justice for Migrant Workers. Send an e-transfer to: thankyoupigeons@gmail.com

J4MW thanks the amazing artist Emmie Tsumura for this dynamic project!

Instructions

What you will need: Printer, paper, pens, markers, crayons, glue or tape, and scissors
  1. Print the pdf from here
  2. Read the last page (page 11) for instructions
  3. You will need either pencils, markers, crayons, or paint to colour the pigeons
  4. On pages 9 and 10 you will see bubbles to write in. Sample messages include “If you ate today thank a migrant worker, farm workers feed cities, Justice for migrant workers, support migrant workers, Fairness for farm workers, hazard pay for farm workers, Status now! etc
  5. After you write your messages cut the message bubbles and glue or tape it next to a pigeon.
  6. If you would like take a picture with your pigeons and share it on social media. (Please tag @j4mw). Feel free to use the hashtags: #harvestingfreedom #farmworkers #migrantworkers #workingclassheroes
  7. You can e-mail pictures to harvestingfreedomcampaign@gmail.com
Pigeons4ThePeople

 

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)

J4MW raises concerns over increased policing powers: Migrant activists concerned that racialized workers to be targeted by new Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act

As Ontario prepares to enforce the provincial Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW) expresses our concern about the implications and impact this will have on precarious communities such as migrant farm workers.

In response to efforts by the Leamington community to name and shame migrant farm workers for not social distancing, the local detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police created a youtube video to ‘educate’ migrant workers of their responsibilities to socially distance while in public. Our concern is with how policing will be used to disproportionately target racialized migrant workers in rural communities across Ontario. J4MW has been active in efforts to address police violence enacted against migrant farm workers with respect to racialized policing.

We find it disconcerting that local community members are so concerned about migrant workers’ social distancing while in public, yet do not share the same concerns regarding the lack of protections and accommodations provided by the employer to ensure that migrant farm workers are able to socially distance in their workplace and home. Employers have long been able to get away with this due to the multitude of exclusions that deny migrant farm workers the same rights and protections that resident Ontarions receive.

Actions by OPP and other police agencies, such as ticketing and fining, will have significant economic implications for a population that lives and works below the poverty line. In addition, ticketing migrants may also have dire consequences on their immigration status and the ability of workers to return to Canada to work in the future.

As we are in a crisis, resources should be spent on preventative measures such as ensuring that all communities have access to healthcare and a social safety net, rather than disproportionately targeting and intimidating marginalized communities. Migrant workers are at risk of the spread of this pandemic not because of racial characteristics or cultural differences but because of deplorable working and living conditions that are not subjected to the same levels of scrutiny. We have raised our concerns several times that targeting particular communities will only fan the flames of further hostility, xenophobia, bigotry and racism.

In closing, J4MW will expose any and all forms of racialized policing that targets farm workers in rural Ontario. Whether it is intimidation, harassment, or ticketing, J4MW will undertake numerous steps to protect the welfare of migrant farm workers. Pandemics and crises do not impact all of us equally. As we are seeing almost daily, vulnerable communities are subjected to heightened levels of criminalization and surveillance. This will not be tolerated and we will take any and all steps so that the state and law enforcement do not disproportionately exercise their newly enacted powers on migrants deemed an essential workforce in Ontario yet denied every form of protection that Ontarians enjoy.

For further information please e-mail j4mw.on@gmail.com

Farmers given blank cheque by Feds: No steps taken to protect farm workers rights in today’s announcement.

For Immediate Release

Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW) is outraged that the federal government is providing a blank cheque of $50 million to agricultural employers to cover the costs of housing for temporary foreign workers during their 14-day quarantine when arriving in Canada. In today’s announcement, federal minister of agriculture and agri-food Marie-Claude Bibeau, emphasized that $1500 would be allocated to cover each worker hired by an employer who requires housing support during the quarantine period of 14 days upon arrival in Canada. Meanwhile thousands of migrant workers remain in Mexico and the Caribbean with no ability to return to work in Canada this year. The federal government has not provided a clear response of whether or not income supports such as EI or the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) will be extended to protect these migrants and their families back home. 

Canada has two long-standing temporary foreign worker programs to bring migrant workers to Canada. The low wage agricultural stream and the long standing Seasonal Agricultural Workers program are self regulated programs where employer organizations self govern the operations of the program with very little oversight for the estimated 60,000 migrants who arrive annually to work on Canadian agricultural enterprises. Migrant agricultural workers are tied to a particular employer and denied labour and social mobility akin to a 21st century indentured migration scheme. 

J4MW strongly opposes subsidies to Canada’s agricultural industry while its workforce remains employed under precarious and dangerous conditions. Today’s announcement does nothing to address the deplorable housing conditions that already exist or the power imbalance that exacerbates the vulnerability of migrant farm workers during this pandemic. 

Migrant farm workers pay costs to cover transportation, biometrics, work permits, private health insurance, personal protective equipment and a whole slew of additional deductions. J4MW argues that in reality the nearly 60,000 migrant agricultural workers earn less than minimum wage after deductions, something that is not addressed in today’s federal announcement. Employers are profiting from the precarious nature of agricultural labour while further entrenching poverty and hunger amongst the workers who put food on our table.

Contact J4mw.on@gmail.com or @j4mw (twitter)

 

 

 

Requesting urgent action from provincial and federal governments: Temporary Foreign Workers and COVID-19

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.

Need to file an anonymous complaint?

Do you need to file an anonymous complaint?

Justicia for Migrant Workers has received several reports of farm workers who are either not receiving breaks or fainting while at work in the heat. Please share far and wide: if there are occupational health and safety issues related to heat stress, a person can file an anonymous complaint by phone, fax or electronically.

To file a complaint, notify the ministry of fatalities, critical injuries, work refusals, reprisals and unsafe work practices, including heat-related issues:

Ministry of Labour Health & Safety Contact Centre
• Toll-free: 1-877-202-0008
• TTY: 1-855-653-9260
• Fax: 905-577-1316
To file an anonymous complaint electronically, go to https://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/feedback/ and scroll down to FEEDBACK.
You do not need to provide your name or contact info.

Do you need additional help? Email us at j4mw.on@gmail.com