Farm workers win fight for health care

Eloid Drummond

By Gerald V. Paul

Two Jamaican farm workers fought the good fight and won an extension of their Ontario Health Insurance (OHIP) in cases of medical emergencies.

Kenroy Williams and Denville Clarke challenged a ruling that said they were not allowed to be given care under OHIP, after they were involved in an accident while in Ontario under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP).

The duo were among nine Jamaican farm workers being driven to work in their employer’s van, which rolled on on August 9th 2012. One passenger died and several of the workers were injured.

Their employer attempted to unilaterally return both Williams and Clarke to Jamaica despite their serious medical conditions and before they could receive adequate healthcare. Family members and activists with Justicia for Migrant Workers intervened to help the workers remain in Ontario for their desperately needed medical treatment.

As with all SAWP workers,. Williams’ and Clarke’s OHIP coverage expired at the end of the farming season on December 15, 2012, even though they both remained seriously injured and in need of healthcare in Ontario. Both men stayed in Ontario on visitors visas.

A motion was filed before the Health Services Appeal and Review Board to allow the workers an extension of their OHIP, and this was granted on August 26 2013. The tribunal ruled that the province must continue to provide health coverage to the duo because extraordinary circumstances, such as medical emergencies, could prevent SAWP participants from returning to their country of origin at the predetermined date.

However, the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care filed a reconsideration request with the Board.

Last Friday, the Ministry’s request for reconsideration was rejected, with the Health and Services Review Board saying that the original ruling in August should stand.

This means Williams and Clarke’s medical care will be paid for under OHIP, “which reaffirms migrant workers’ right to stay here and receive health care, which they help contribute to,” said Chris Ramsaroop of Justicia for Migrant Workers. “It is incumbent on the province to respect the board’s decision and not to appeal it to the divisional court.”

In August last year, The Camera also reported the story of Eloid Drummond, another Jamaican migrant farm worker who was denied OHIP coverage after he was hit by a car . His employer purchased a one-way ticket for him to go back to Jamaica, and his contract was terminated, which led to his cancellation of his OHIP.

Drummond was injured in May 2010, and fought for the right for treatment for his injuries. He was eventually successful in getting the insurance company which covered the driver of the car involved in the accident to foot the $5000 bill for surgery at the Humber River Regional Hospital.