Migrants denied health rights, study finds

By Gerald V. Paul

“The primary objective of this study was to present data describing the reasons and dominant diagnostic categories for medical repatriation of migrant farm workers in Ontario between 2001 and 2011,” Dr. Aaron Orkin, an emergency physician at Humber River Regional Hospital and lead author, told The Camera on Tuesday.

The study revealed for the first time, sick or injured farm workers are likely to be fired or deported.

So, can anything good come out of the case of Jamaican Ned Peart, who was crushed to death in a Brantford tobacco kiln. Thanks to a human rights complaint made by Peart’s supporters – having lost the fight for mandatory inquests – a Human Rights Tribunal hearing was held.

Orkin and his team obtained privately collected data hidden from the public on the illness and injuries that have led to migrant workers being abruptly fired and sent home, a practice euphemistically known as “medical repatriation.”

Their research, published in the latest edition of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, depicted the nature and extent of the injuries and health problems involved in the termination of sick, injured farm workers, who in most cases are deported.

The repatriation of migrant farm workers for health-related reasons and medical termination of their employment represents a unique form of deportation from Canada, said the report.

Approximately 40,000 migrant farm workers are employed annually in Canada through the temporary foreign worker program. Workers experiencing health conditions that prevent ongoing work are normally repatriated to their home country, which raises concerns about human rights and health equity.

“In this study, we present data on the reasons for medical repatriation of migrant farm workers in Ontario. Without any public records or information, there can be no oversight to ensure that sick and injured workers are treated fairly,” Orkin said.

Orkin added, “I don’t blame the local farmers who hire migrant workers. They are under a lot of pressure to produce food in the cheapest way. I blame the higher-up policymakers who put workers in these situations.”

The study found that, between 2001 and 2011, 787 migrant farm workers were terminated and sent back to their country of origin, for medical reasons. More than 41% of those workers were sent back because of medical or surgical conditions, including cancer, neurological conditions, back problems and gastrointestinal problems such as stomach pains, hernias and appendicitis.

While one quarter of these workers were fired because of injuries such as tobacco poisoning or broken limbs, three female workers lost their jobs after they became pregnant. Only one one in 50 of the injured or sick workers left at their own will.