New Premier told: Help migrant farm workers

By Jasminee Sahoye

An organization that has been fighting for the rights of migrant workers has dispatched a letter to newly elected Ontario Liberal leader and premier designate, Kathleen Wynne asking her to undertake a number of steps to assist migrant workers.

Justica for Migrant Workers (J4MW) says this week marks the one-year anniversary of the deaths of 11 migrant workers in a car crash in Hampstead, Ontario and the survivors and the families of the deceased are still left with many unanswered questions.

Migrant workers have been playing an integral role in the development of Ontario and Canada, providing much needed labour especially in the agricultural sector, J4MW argued.

On Wednesday during a media conference in Brantford, after meeting farmers and stakeholders in the agriculture sector, the premier designate said she will be taking on the role of minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

According to J4MW’s spokesperson, Chris Ramsaroop, the letter is urging Wynne to review a decision made on not to undertake an inquest into the Hampstead accident; strengthen anti-reprisal mechanisms so that migrant workers can enforce their rights at work; ban all recruitment and placement fees for all temporary foreign workers; modernize Ontario labour laws to protect the most vulnerable workers in the province and write a letter to the federal government urging them to provide permanent immigration status for the survivors of the Hampstead accident.

“In the past year, many community and labour organizations rallied together to urge changes so that accidents like this one never happen again. We urged the Office of Chief Coroner to conduct its first ever inquest into the workplace deaths of migrant workers employed under the Federal Temporary Foreign Worker Program. We also met with Ministry of Labour officials to advocate for reform of labour laws to protect Ontario’s most vulnerable communities. But our requests have been ignored. The Chief Coroner’s refusal to further investigate one of the worst workplace accidents in the history of Ontario sends a message that the lives of those who perished — most of whom were migrant workers — matter less than those of other workers. We remind you that there has NEVER been an inquest into the death of a migrant worker in the Province of Ontario,” the letter said.

It added that employment standards, occupational health and safety and workers compensation remain woefully inadequate denying equal access to rights that all workers deserve. “At the same time, migrant workers are not provided with special protections against reprisals for attempting to enforce their rights at work. Temporary foreign workers remain at the mercy of unscrupulous recruiters and contractors who can charge exorbitant recruitment and placement fees.”

The letter further stated that Wynne have on many occasions referred to yourself as Ontario’s ‘Social Justice Premier’. “We can think of no better way to put those words into action than by taking the necessary steps to protect the most precarious and marginalized population of workers in Ontario. To do nothing is not only a disservice, but dishonours the memory of all those men who died in an accident that could have been prevented.”