Call for emergency measures to address climate crisis affecting farm workers

Chris Ramsaroop

Justice for Migrant Workers (J4MW) a collective that consists of current and former workers, labour and community activists and scholars, is demanding “immediate emergency protections” for the tens of thousands of agricultural workers employed in Ontario.

In a news release, the organization called on the Ford government “to end its inaction and enact protections to address occupational health and safety hazards such as heat stress, poor air quality, and chemical and pesticide exposure.”

It noted that Ontario provides no “industry-specific regulations ” for agricultural workers, exacerbating an already crisis-level situation.

“To continue this inaction, to ignore the voices of farm workers and to subject a predominantly racialized work force to differential treatment is the classic definition of environmental racism,” the release said.

Migrant farm workers

It pointed out that farm workers are “raising the alarm” regarding the hazards of air quality as well as the sweltering heat both in greenhouses and in the fields.

Several workers, it said, have raised fears of the long term consequences of poor air quality resulting from the forest fires. and others are “demanding action against the sweltering heat and potential health implications.”

Justice for Migrant Workers (J4MW) is demanding the implementation of emergency measures including:

  • Shutting down farms and paying workers in extreme crisis events;
  • Paying workers when they are not employed as a result of climate-related issues such as forest fires, extreme heat, major thunderstorms and heavy rain;
  • Enacting heat stress protections for workers;
  • Strengthening anti-reprisal measures and proactive inspections;
  • Implementing paid breaks and providing permanent paid sick days for agricultural workers;
  • Providing sufficient shelters, functioning bathrooms and drinking water for workers at the expense of the employer;
  • Providing first aid, hydration stations, and on-site medical support (RN or RPNs);
  • Permitting third party complaints at the Ontario Labour Relations Board;
  • Ending agricultural exclusions under the Employment Standards Act;
  • Incorporating race and gender analysis in both occupational health and safety and employment standards;
  • Ensuring that agricultural harvesters are being paid holiday pay;
  • Implementing clear trigger temperatures for extreme heat and humidity, including indoor temperatures (e.g., greenhouses); and
  • Preventive measures to avoid overheating including: specific requirements for shade, down rest periods during high temperatures, along with access to preventive cool-down measures as needed.

Premier Doug Ford has the necessary tools to address long standing issues raised by farm workers, the release noted.

“Immediate and urgent measures are required to end the structural violence farm workers endure as a result of legal exclusions that exist within Ontario’s legislative framework,” it said.