Justice for Migrant Workers in Ontario

Justice for Migrant Workers in Ontario

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Jillian Bjelan started this petition to Government of Ontario and

Dear Hon. Doug Ford: 

We are writing to implore you to prioritize the health crises within our provincial migrant farm worker community. As representatives of our graduate class, ‘Social Justice and Public Health’, as part of the University of Waterloo’s School of Public Health and Health Systems’ Master of Public Health program, and as concerned, compassionate citizens of Ontario, we ask for immediate justice for these workers in the true, compassionate nature of the Canadian spirit.

Migrant farm worker injustice is not a new issue, as you know, Ontario invites and employs more migrant farm workers than any other province. Migrant workers feed Ontarians. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, these issues have been further exacerbated. In fact, migrant worker injustice extends well beyond COVID-19 to other health concerns into long, ignored issues of unfair pay, impoverished living situations, and poor working conditions. We need better health and socioeconomic conditions for these workers now and beyond this crisis for their health and well-being as well as for all Ontarians’. 

As you know, there have been hundreds of cases of COVID-19 in the migrant worker population despite mandatory fourteen-day quarantine upon arrival. It has been well documented in news sources and advocacy publications that migrant workers in Canada are part of an unbalanced power structure where any dissent, complaint about working conditions, or failing health can result in deportation. Your Honour, on June 18, 2020 it was reported that you stated that you would do “anything” to stop the spread of this virus on farms and in migrant farm worker populations and pleaded for migrant workers to “just please get tested”. The current structures in place allow for ill migrant workers to face deportation; what protections are in place for these workers who contract COVID-19 in Canada? 

Furthermore, the deaths of the migrant workers in this province are not only deplorable, but shine a light on the issues of ownership and lack of accountability on behalf of the province. Prime Minister Trudeau stated that “rules are not being followed”, unfortunately, these ‘rules’ are poorly planned and inadequate. Cramped bunkhouses, inability to physically distance during working hours and extremely challenging working conditions can lead to the continued spread of this virus. We believe that you can do more than offer vague and weak statements of support that have been offered at the federal level. 

A structural overhaul is needed to address the treatment of migrant workers nationally and provincially and this begins with transparency, oversight, and commitment to basic justice. Simply enforcing the provision of decent living conditions will reduce the spread of COVID-19 and other serious illnesses, promote a better life for these workers, and could potentially increase worker productivity and improve the safety of our food systems. 

Beyond pointing out why these workers need justice, Mr. Premier, we would like to offer solutions. These solutions will be beneficial for combatting the current COVID-19 pandemic, improving Ontario’s public health, and can extend beyond this pandemic in order to provide sustainable justice for migrant workers in Ontario. 

First, providing funding through the LHINs, arrange for an ongoing Migrant Farm Worker Health Force (MFWHF) in each region: 

- These can be teams of bilingual Nurse Practitioners, nurses, and/or interpreters for each LHIN with farm communities. The team can travel to the farms through the region, on a rotating basis, to provide health clinics on-site. These can be provided during regular inspections and spot checks.
- Services would include basic health assessments, testing, vaccinations, and providing health education in their spoken language(s).
- The teams may also liaise and work with Public Health in the region for timely assistance with case management, contact tracing, and relevant health education and counselling for all Diseases of Public Health Significance, including the novel coronavirus. 

The MFWHF would be publicly-funding and delivered on-site in order to remove barriers of accessibility and of fear. We hope that this will encourage migrant worker populations to seek prompt assessment and treatment for their health concerns. This program would have the ability to be expanded beyond farm communities in order to include other contracted migrant workers in other lines of employment. 

Second, in order to address the need for massive system overhaul, we suggest working with the federal government to complete the following: 

- Adopt the Access without Fear and Access to City/Provincial Services without Fear policies which ensures people, regardless of their immigration status, will be able to access services such as emergency personnel, public health, library and educational resources, housing, and other services without fear of prosecution and deportation. 
- Advocate to the federal government to fast-track permanent residency applications for migrant workers in Canada. 
- Create open work permits that allow for migrant workers to move freely between jobs and workplaces in any sector and transition away from the reliance on employer-based permits. 
- Develop a migrant worker ombudsperson to independently hear, investigate, and adjudicate (and compensate) complaints from migrant workers that will not affect their work permits or immigration status. 

These suggestions are not all encompassing but rather a starting point to begin to reconcile the harms done to migrant workers in this province and country in addition to moving towards a more just future for all. 

Sincerely, 


Jillian Bjelan and Milan Iacobelli 

Graduate Students at the University of Waterloo 

On behalf of the Master of Public Health & Master of Peace and Conflict Studies Programs

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