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.

Join the Caravan Grand Finale in Ottawa this weekend

Over the past month, we’ve brought the caravan to over 20 communities across Ontario. We’ve connected with more than 1000 migrant agricultural workers from Mexico, the Caribbean, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Guatemala and Peru. We’ve witnessed the will for political change across a surprising range of everyday people in Canada.

To get a taste of the impact Harvesting Freedom has had on the public conversation about migrant justice in Canada and internationally, check out some of the media coverage from the past month.

This weekend, we’re pumped for the caravan’s grand finale in Ottawa. Please join us in the caravan’s final push to demand STATUS NOW from the federal government.

  • Saturday, Oct 1: Migrant Dreams screening at One World Film Fest. Doors: 11:30am. Library and Archives Canada, 395 Wellington St., Ottawa. Tickets here.
  • Sunday, Oct 2: Flyering Ottawa Farmers markets. Email us for details: harvestingfreedomcampaign@gmail.com
  • Monday, Oct 3: CARAVAN BIG FINALE. It will happen from 12noon-1:30pm, 365 Laurier Ave West. This will include a demonstration in front of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to demand justice for the tens of thousands of farmworkers who have put food on Canadian tables for the last 50 years without any chance to lay roots in the country. RSVP on the Facebook event.

As we detail in this latest press release, in a 2014 open letter published by the Toronto Star, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged that in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, “Abuse is not rare. It is far too common, and it must end immediately.” He underscored Canada’s historical commitment to providing a path to citizenship for all those who come to Canada to work  and emphasized that Canada should not “follow the path of other countries who exploit large numbers of guest workers”. For 50 years, seasonal agricultural workers have been the bulwark of  agricultural food production, and yet they have no access to secure, permanent immigration status.

Justice for Migrant Workers is holding Prime Minister Trudeau to account and is demanding an end to this unjust and discriminatory policy.

Here are a few shots from our visit to Kingston earlier this week, where we had critical conversations with Queens University students about racism in Canada and worker resistance, and delivered migrant workers’ demands for status now to Liberal MP Mark Gerretsen.

Onward to Ottawa!

 

Migrant farmworkers asked Trudeau for Permanent Residency in Canada

‘Justice is 50 years overdue’, migrant farmworkers call for real change in 2016

WHAT: Media Briefing to launch historic ‘Harvesting Freedom’ caravan to Ottawa
WHEN: 10 am, Monday, January 25, 2016.
WHERE: Charles Lynch Room, Centre Block of Parliament, Ottawa
WHO: Justice for Migrant Workers (J4MW) is a grassroots advocacy group composed of migrant workers and allies, based in Toronto, Vancouver, and Mexico City

J4MW will held a press conference at 10 am in the Charles Lynch room in the Centre block of Parliament. Following the press conference, migrant workers visited the office of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to urge him to grant migrant farm workers Permanent Residence Status on Landing.