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:

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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/  

 

A worker shared this video from the inside of an employer-provided bunkhouse.

Hundreds of Black and Brown migrant farm workers are contracting COVID-19 in Canada because of conditions like this. The following video was shared with us by a worker and shows how twelve men are currently crammed into a room separated by flimsy pieces of cardboard. Stay tuned — we’ll be naming this employer soon.

Meanwhile, seasonal agricultural workers coming to Canada from Jamaica have been required to sign a waiver releasing the Jamaican government from liability if they’re exposed to COVID-19.

How many more exposés are needed before the government takes real action?  It’s time for the federal government, Ministry of Labour and public health to show that they value the lives of people of colour from the Global South. They need to take action stop the spread of this pandemic.

Migrant workers are demanding permanent status on arrival in Canada. It’s time to end the differential treatment farm workers face in Canada, including exemptions from employment protections that other workers can access.

Please sign our petition here.

“It’s almost like racism will never be over.” A migrant farm worker calls for an end to being treated like “a modern-day slave”

Over 670 migrant agricultural workers have been confirmed positive for COVID-19 in Canada, and two comrades have died. Activists have been predicting these outbreaks for months.

How many more migrant farm workers will need to fall ill before the government starts valuing the lives of people of colour from the Global South? It’s time for the the federal government to give #statusnow for all migrant workers! It’s also time for the province to end the differential treatment farm workers receive under provincial labour standards.

Please sign our petition here.

A migrant farm worker who is currently working in Canada shares the following message from the frontlines:

“..migrants are facing too much struggle here in Canada when they are a major factor to Canadians’ needs and even Canada’s economy… see how this young migrant worker from Mexico died…. right now his body is left at his family’s expense to get him back to Mexico for a proper burial… This shouldn’t be when he been playing a major factor in Canada’s food chain and economy. Migrant workers are almost no good to Canada when they are no longer able to meet the needs of their Canadian employer.. Shouldn’t be.

It’s almost like racism will never be over.

Migrant workers should be stopped treated as modern-day slaves…conditions we have to live in… working humiliation and belittleness we have to face… It’s almost like racism will never be over… we shouting Black Lives Matters.. but what really matters?? What’s the concern… police killing Black citizens… that’s the only Black life that matter… the migrant workers.. most are of the Black race… so it’s same racism against we migrant workers we are facing… for what?? coming here to perform task Canadians don’t want to do… meet needs and demands of Canadians.. contribute to major part of Canada’s economy.. I mean since before I came here as migrant worker, migrant workers been treated this way… racism same way.. When will it ever stop??? Will it ever stop?? Or should I do like others and speak on behalf of my fellow migrant workers and just agree I’ll be sent home and denied coming back here..

Your only opportunity is to get another job as a migrant worker on some farm.. If not you sent home and maybe replaced. Like, that’s all migrant workers are good for??

The only chance migrant workers do have in Canada is as a migrant farm worker… nothing more.. no other benefits… for example me.. being here.. since March 23rd.. haven’t been working.. no income.. have been contributing to Canadians needs and Canada’s economy for the past 4 years.. now I’m out a job.. no money.. Am I to just sit here hungry till my time visa expire and return home.. That’s how it is? Or maybe steal a chance.. work under table.. no benefits … like others been doing??? More serious stuff should be put in place for migrant workers here… If you lost a job as a migrant farm worker.. Your only opportunity is to get another job as a migrant worker on some farm.. If not you sent home and maybe replaced. Like, that’s all migrant workers are good for??

Migrants ain’t Canadians, doesn’t mean migrants ain’t human.

A lot of changes need to be done… a lot more opportunities need to be put in place for migrants workers seeing we are playing and contributing so much to Canada and Canadians… They need to open up more doors to migrant workers beside the opportunity of just working on a farm, financially… things need to be put in place for migrant workers to obtain financial benefits during times like now…. Clearly if you a migrant worker and for example not working like times like now.. how can you take care of your family back home which you came here to provide for in the 1st place.? Migrants ain’t Canadians, doesn’t mean migrants ain’t human.

Now he is dead, he is of no good to Canada cause he can’t physically provide the needs and wants of Canadians and automatically it’s his family expense and duty to make sure his back home for burial.

Health wise.. a lot more need to be done when it comes for migrants health here in Canada, this young man left his family to provide for them.. but also to contribute to the demands and need of Canadians and even Canada’s economy by extension.. Now he is dead, he is of no good to Canada cause he can’t physically provide the needs and wants of Canadians and automatically it’s his family expense and duty to make sure his back home for burial. Some form of benefit or insurance should be put in place… he’s no longer a bread winner to his family as a result of death in another country as a migrant worker yet its his families expense to get him home.. What about the impact an contribution he made to Canada upon living his family. He’s dead, he could easily be replaced like we would often be humiliated with these words by farm bosses, what about his family?? Who to contribute and provide for them?? A lot need to be done.. Migrants come here to work and make a better life for the love ones back home and more so to provide the Canadians with their daily food and other services… more opportunities for better lives of migrants workers, migrant worker families should be put in place..

when you are no longer of good health or no longer meet the criteria of serving as a modern-day slave, you are then replaced.

Even with migrant workers being going back and forth for certain amount of years contributed to Canada’s economy and needs of Canadians is only accessible to specific work permit given the chance to only work on farms.. open work permits for migrant workers to further provide for them self, further contribute Canada’s economy, meet the needs and demands of Canadians, in which they could now be comfortable and eligible to other benefits because migrants are humans too. Some reason it is felt like migrant workers are only to be as modern days slaves here in Canada and when you are no longer of good health or no longer meet the criteria of serving as a modern-day slave, you are then replaced.

 

At just one Ontario farm, at least 164 workers have tested positive for COVID-19. Take action now!

At least 164 racialized migrant workers from Mexico have tested positive for COVID-19 at Scotlynn Group’s farm in Norfolk County, Ontario. Meanwhile, the employer is offering to pay Canadian residents $25/hour to harvest asparagus. We have never heard of a migrant farmworker anywhere earning $25 an hour for their hard-earned labour.

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Please take the following actions today in support of migrant justice. It won’t take long to tweet, email and/or phone right now:

1. TWEET at @scotlynnGroup. Ask, the employer:

  • “Will migrant farm workers also be paid $25 an hour?”
  • “Will you commit to not repatriating workers who are sick or injured?”
  • “Will you commit to paying migrant workers full wages and no deductions during their quarantine period, at the same rate you are paying Canadian residents?”
  • “Will you commit to rehiring all migrant labourers next year and paying the $25 they are offering this year to Canadian workers?

You can use the following hashtags: #migrantjustice #fairwagesnow #covid19 #covid19Ontario #onpoli #onlab #onlab

Feel free to CC @fordnation @montemcnaughton @marcomendicino @cquantrough and @mclaudebideau.

2. EMAIL the employer at info@scotlynn.com. Please CC j4mw.on@gmail.com so we can keep track of how many emails are sent. Sample email:

I am aware that you are offering to pay $25/hour to assist with harvesting asparagus, and I am writing to inquire whether or not the migrant workers employed at your workplace will also be paid $25 an hour. Will you commit to this as well as paying the workers full wages during their quarantine? Furthermore, will you ensure that no migrant worker who is sick or injured will be repatriated, and that they will be provided full access to the Canadian healthcare system? Finally, will you commit to rehiring all workers next year if they so choose to return to Scotlynn, paying the $25 rate that you are offering to Canadian residents? I await a response from you.

3. PHONE Scotlynn Group at 1-800-263-9117 ext 2225. Phone script:

I am phoning today to ask about your job posting. Are you paying migrant farm workers $25 as well? Will you pay the workers full wages during their quarantine, and will you commit to not sending home injured and sick workers so they receive full access to our healthcare system? Finally, will you rehire all the workers next year if they choose to return? For years your farm business has relied on migrant workers, and its our hope that they will be treated with fairness and respect during this pandemic.

Want to know what housing conditions are like like for migrant farmworkers right now? Watch this video and then sign our petition.

Farmworkers and activists have long called on the government to address inconsistent and often appalling, overcrowded migrant farmworker housing. Agricultural business groups, however, have lobbied against a national housing standard for migrant farmworkers. More than ever, the pandemic reveals the potentially deadly results of how Canada treats racialized people from the Majority World who are categorized as essential yet “temporary” workers.

To offset the cost of housing workers in a way that complies with pandemic requirements, the federal government has provided $50 million to farms and agri-food businesses that employ people through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. So worker housing in the COVID-19 crisis must be decent, right? This video shows where migrant farmworkers in Ontario are currently being housed:

We demand that governments ensure dignity for essential migrant farmworkers. Please sign our petition: https://harvestingfreedom.org/2020/05/07/petition-tell-the-ontario-government-farmworkers-need-urgent-protections/

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.