Activist group calls for immediate action to protect farm workers

Greenhill Produce

Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW), an activist group that advocates for the rights of  farm workers,  is calling on Ontario Premier Doug Ford to take immediate action to protect agricultural workers  employed in the province, among them, thousands from the Caribbean.

The group has fired off  a letter to the Premier following recent reports of confirmed cases of COVID-19 at two large farms  in  the province –  Highline Mushrooms and Greenhill Produce.

In the case of Greenhill Produce where migrant workers mostly from Jamaica, Mexico and Guatemala are hired, more than 40 of them have tested positive for the virus.

” We urge the province to immediately suspend any agricultural workplace from operating until the workplace is fully sanitized and the workers are provided with full Personal Protective Equipment while at work,” said the letter.

It also calls for the workers to be paid their full wages during the sanitization process.

And to level the playing field ” so that all farm workers can be protected,,”  the activist group has called for “immediate steps” to be taken.

These include the following:

– Extending the current wage boost to include farm workers in Ontario;

– Providing an expedited appeals process for migrant workers when filing complaints wth respect to occupational health and safety and employment standards;

– Providing migrant farm workers  with the ability to work so that they are not tied to a single employer.

– Extending 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.

– Developing 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

– Providimg hazard pay, sick pay and other benefits to recognize the dangers associated with agricultural work;

– Recognizing piece rate as an occupational health and safety hazard.

– Developing and implementing 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;

– Communicating 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;

– Ending employer wage deductions for all Personal Protective Equipment and developing regulations that ensure employers provide bathrooms, washing facilities and potable water for farm workers across Ontario.

– Strengthening migrant worker protection against recruitment fees by holding employers and recruiters jointly liable.

– And ending the exclusions to holiday pay, overtime pay, minimum hours of work provisions and the myriad of regulations that deny fairness to farmworkers.

The letter notes that these are long standing requests that farm workers have been bringing forward for decades.

“To stamp out the spread of this pandemic, then it is critical that structural changes are made to address the systemic power imbalances that exist in our fields,” it said.

“These structural inequities in agriculture work,” it points out,” 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.”

Noting that  farm employers are receiving several benefits in the form of subsidies and other grants and other regulatory exemptions, the letter says  “it is time that the workers receive the benefits that are due to them and are valued for their essential labour.”