Migrant workers’ low status exposes them to greater COVID-19 dangers

Demonstrators outside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s constituency office in Montreal on July 4 to support migrant worker demands

YOU HAVE TO DIE TO STAY HERE. That’s the harsh reality thousands of migrant workers in Canada face. Being “vital to the country’s food supply” isn’t enough.

It’s a reality that brought hundreds out to support multi-city demonstrations July 4, to call for more COVID-19 protections for migrant workers and a clear path to citizenship for all temporary workers.

Migrant workers sick and dead

Covid-19 killed Juan López Chaparro on June 20. He was the third migrant farmworker in Ontario to die of Covid-19. At least 199 other workers have tested positive for the virus, at Scotlynn Growers, the farm where he worked.

A single farm in Windsor-Essex, Ont. has been linked to 175 new cases of COVID-19 in the province.

More than 1,000 agricultural workers have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Ontario since the start of the pandemic.

“Our message to provincial and federal politicians: stop murdering migrants by your inactions,” says Justice for Migrant Workers spokesperson Chris Ramsaroop.

“The industry must immediately cease production and, as a society, we must demand that the interests of the workers are paramount, not the profits of a billion-dollar industry,”

Living conditions favour virus spread

The living conditions for the migrants make it nearly impossible to contain the spread of the virus.

One worker told CTV news: “We have rooms that are three metres by three metres. Four people sleeping in beds that are in very poor condition. Mattresses that are used and spent, and bedding that is in bad conditions.”

“Because we don’t have proper rights, they step on our necks,” says Syed Hussan, executive director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.

Ontario released a three-point plan in late June to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 on farms, including expanded on-site testing at agri-food businesses and access to emergency benefits and supports for foreign workers.

But it also allows farm workers infected with the virus to continue work as long as they are asymptomatic.

Justice for Migrant Workers is calling on the government to change its plan to ensure that all workers who test positive are quarantined, even if they are asymptomatic. The organization also wants to see workers put into hotels and provided individual rooms to prevent the further spread of the disease.


Status For All poster posted outside the Seaport Farmers Market in Halifax as part of national July 4 action

Crisis within a crisis

Activists point out the failure to protect migrant farm workers is just one more example of the failure to address the larger issue of the status of all temporary workers in Canada. Lack of permanent immigration status means people are denied healthcare, income support and the ability to assert basic rights

A new report from the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change calls the heightened dangers  from covid “a crisis from within a crisis.” The report calls for immediate action to address the “fundamental discrimination and exploitation built into Canada’s temporary immigration programs.”

Good enough to work. Good enough to stay.

Advocates say all the essential work temporary foreign workers do for us should earn them a clear pathway to permanent resident status. Their slogan says it all: “Good enough to work. Good enough to stay.”

The Workers Action Centre (WAC) says: “While the virus is incurable right now, the remedy for workplace outbreaks and mistreatment of migrants is immediate status for all—no exceptions!

A recent massive digital rally organized by the Migrant Rights Network pushed Prime Minister Trudeau to promise a future pathway to citizenship for temporary foreign workers.

The network wants more than a promise. It continues to pressure the prime ministers with a petition and call-in campaign. Click here to support that campaign.
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