Canada must take better care of injured migrant workers

Open Letter from injured workers to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Sean Fraser Premier of Ontario Doug Ford,

Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development Monte McNaughton, and WSIB President & CEO Jeffery Lang     

Chris Ramsaroop

We are a diverse grassroots group of injured migrant farm workers and allies who have been fighting for fair compensation and respect from the WSIB (Workplace & Safety Insurance Board) for all workers. We want changes to the system to help, not hinder, the lives of injured workers.

On March 21st, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, we, injured migrant workers formerly employed by Canada’s temporary foreign worker program, want to bring to light the conditions that we have faced as a result of becoming injured or sick.  We believe that the workers’ compensation system does not treat us like we are human.

There are power differences between us as workers and our bosses. The system is set up for the bosses, not for us. Our voices are not taken seriously. It is like the system believes the bosses rather than us when we are telling the impact of our injuries. We are treated like we are lying. Rather than let us heal, the bosses send us back to work while we are still injured and in pain. It’s like we must beg for benefits that we are entitled to.

We are considered disposable to the WSIB, the government of Canada, employers, and our liaisons. We have been verbally, physically, mentally, and emotionally abused. Rather than helping us heal, the current system makes it worse for us. We have been denied the right to function as humans in Canada.

For those of us who have been repatriated, we are returning to our home countries with injuries and traumas. We pay upfront for our transportation, our healthcare, and our medicine to come to Canada, but we must beg friends and family members after we get injured in Canada when we should rightfully be getting benefits from WSIB in Canada. Our work injuries suffered in Canada put us in further debt. This is not fair. Many of us suffer high blood pressure, stress and anxiety because we cannot pay our bills. In many cases, we miss our medical appointments, which means we get more sick.

It is WSIB that is in charge, which holds the responsibility when a worker gets injured on the job in Canada. The injured people are finding it hard to communicate with the WSIB caseworkers on the phone, even when our medical information is placed on their desks or on computers. The injured people are re-traumatized on top of what they have already been through, which leads to even more depression and frustration.

The WSIB system must change so that we receive the same protections that other Canadian nonfarm workers receive. We should not be penalized for standing up for our rights or refusing dangerous working conditions. It is not right that the laws do not protect us for the essential work we do while in Canada.

In the WSIB system, there are no rights for injured migrant workers. They are biased in the way they treat workers and also biased in the compensation injured workers get. Injured migrants cannot get to see a proper doctor nor do they have the money to pay for it. At the same time WSIB is giving so-called “surplus” money to employers that should rightfully be going to injured workers and our families.

When our families are sick, we cannot take care of them, nor can we send our children to school. It is outrageous for WSIB to reward those employers rather than fix the system that has left injured workers in crisis. We want to receive the medical treatment we deserve and the benefits that make sure we are not given a death sentence.

Our struggle is for all migrant workers, whatever country you are from or whatever language you speak. Our struggle is for the betterment of Canadian workers and migrant workers alike.

We urge both federal and provincial governments’ immediate actions to protect all workers. 

The Canadian government must provide permanent immigration status for all undocumented and migrant workers, status on arrival, status when injured, and no one should be deported. The federal government made a grossly inadequate proposal to allow more than a tiny fraction of farm workers and other essential workers to qualify. That’s not enough at all. All workers, including those injured workers must be allowed to stay and access justice and health care in Canada.

The Ontario government:

Abolish Bill 27, Schedule 6, Working for Workers Act, 2021 because it does not work. Immediately return the WSIB Surplus to Injured Workers, not to employers.

End the WSIB practice of “deeming” (phantom jobs) and provide benefits when injured workers are not able to get a job or no job is available in the market, especially those undocumented and migrant workers who are already deported to their countries.

Based on the “Bad Medicine” report (IAVGO,  2017), the WSIB payment of drug benefits decreased from $96M in 2010 to  $63M in 2015 while the new claims entering the system are consistent during that period. It says, “About 18,000 injured workers per year have disappeared from the drug benefits program, with no viable explanation from the WSIB.” However, the WSIB’s own Annual Financial Reports confirmed that the benefits paid out to injured workers were cut in half from 2010 to 2015. The WSIB should provide health care injured workers need and fund medical treatments and medication our doctors prescribe, especially for those workers and migrant workers injured in precarious workplaces and repatriated to their countries with no medical attention.

Eliminate pre-existing conditions or age-related degeneration in the WSIB policy. Researchers and injured workers’ advocates said that these conditions had not affected worker’s ability to do the job or had shown no symptoms (were asymptomatic).

Both Federal and Ontario governments:

Work together to fully investigate all work-related deaths and health & safety conditions (abuse/harassments, work injuries, bunkhouse, PPE, safety equipment), including on SAWP (Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program) and TFWP (Temporary Foreign Workers Program). Also reinforce all legal requirements that employers must be responsible for unsafe work environments and held accountable for any violation of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Provide social assistance benefits with a real living-cost increase and implement a new Canada disability income benefit for people with disabilities. The social safety net should be available to everyone who needs it regardless of immigration status. Review access and data requests on EI/CPP/CPPD/WSIB/Social assistance (ODSP/OW) programs accesses for migrant workers, to determine how many workers are facing the systemic issues.

Please contact your MPP and MP to protect all workers. We stand in solidarity with all migrants and people of colour in the world against racism.

An injury to one is an injury to all!

Injured Migrant Farm Workers