Philipino migrant worker Efren Reyes was struck and killed by a Bobcat machine while working on a chicken farm in Wetaskiwin, Alberta. He was not the first migrant worker to suffer this fate.
According to Syed Hussan, executive director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, there hasn’t been a national assessment on the number of migrant workers who have died on the job in Canada. The Alliance says four migrant workers have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began last year.
Hussan said in 2021 alone, there have been at least 10 migrant workers who died of various causes on farms. One of those, Mexican migrant Fausto Ramirez Plazas, died of COVID-19.
Ramirez Plazas arrived in Canada shortly after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a mandatory 14-day quarantine for international arrivals. Five workers, including Ramirez Plazas, have died while in quarantine, but there has been no assessment of the causes of death for the other four migrants, Hussan said. He added that the number of migrant workers’ deaths in workplaces is severely under reported. Employers are more likely to violate these workers’ rights due to their temporary status and fail to report accidents, he said.
In some cases, he said, migrant workers were sent back to their country of origin and ended up dying outside of Canada. In other instances, when migrant workers develop sickness, like cancer due to years of exposure to pesticides, they are sent back to their country and not invited back, he said.
When a migrant worker gets injured, they are typically supposed to make a claim along with their employer to their province’s workers’ compensation board. However, Hussan said there’s little to no data when it comes to injured migrant workers or one that accounts for the number of deaths.
The federal government, on the other hand, only regulates a number of industries such as airline attendants, interprovincial truck drivers and federal employees.
Chris Ramsaroop is an organizer for the advocacy group Justice for Migrant Workers. He said in some cases when a worker dies on the job, workers’ compensation provides support for the family.
Depending on the number of years the person has been working in Canada, their family could also get survivor benefits from the Canadian pension plan.
In Reyes’s case, his family will receive benefits from his employment insurance and from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration in which he’s an active member.
Hussan says there needs to be a greater push to improve the lives of migrant workers in Canada.
“We have a federal government who are well aware of what the crisis is and what the solutions are,” Hussan said. “Most people will tell you not having permanent residency is the reason people don’t have full rights.”
When asked who takes responsibility for migrant workers’ deaths in Canada, he answered, “Nobody takes responsibility. That’s the problem.”
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada as well as Employment and Social Development Canada did not respond in time for publication to requests for comment on the federal government’s role when a migrant worker is injured or dies on the job.