UFCW and allies secure pay protection, EI eligibility for migrant workers during COVID-19 pandemic

Toronto – April 6, 2020 – UFCW Canada, the Agriculture Workers Alliance (AWA), and our community allies have achieved pay protection and Employment Insurance (EI) eligibility for migrant and temporary foreign workers who are laid off, have become ill, or have to quarantine due to COVID-19.

In addition, the federal government has agreed to remove its prohibition – instituted in response to the coronavirus pandemic – on temporary foreign and migrant farm workers attempting to enter Canada for work.

Following lobbying efforts by UFCW, the AWA, and community allies, the government has lifted its previous ban on migrant and temporary foreign workers entering the country and has implemented regulations requiring workers arriving in Canada to self-isolate for 14 days.

During discussions with the government, UFCW Canada demanded that temporary foreign and migrant farm workers be paid during self-isolation, in light of the fact that they would likely otherwise be working, are self-isolating for health and safety reasons, and to ensure that workers can adequately take care of themselves while in self-isolation.

In response, the government is requiring employers to pay all migrant and temporary foreign workers while they are in self-isolation for 14 days, and is also providing these workers with access to EI benefits and other income supports if they become ill, laid-off, or have to quarantine due to COVID-19.

“While UFCW and the AWA welcome these measures, our union is concerned that workers are not able to practice appropriate physical distancing in their cramped living quarters and close working spaces, and that they may be vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 as a result,” says UFCW Canada National Representative and AWA Co-ordinator Santiago Escobar. “We would therefore like to see the federal government work with employers to address these problems as soon as possible.”

“UFCW and the AWA also believe that migrant farm workers, who play such an essential role in sustaining our food supply chains, should be properly compensated for their work during the COVID-19 crisis,” Escobar continues. “That is why we are calling on the government to mandate a $2 an hour wage increase for all migrant farm workers participating in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP).”

“Now is also an appropriate time to question our reliance on the TFWP and SAWP when we know that migrant and temporary foreign workers are critical to feeding our cities and make it possible for us to have food on our tables,” he adds. “We should instead be prioritizing pathways to permanent residence for these workers – not only because it is the humane thing to do, but also because it is essential to sustaining our food supply, particularly in this time of crisis.”  

For more than three decades, UFCW has led the fight for migrant workers’ rights in Canada. In collaboration with the Agriculture Workers Alliance (AWA), UFCW Canada operates a national, on-the-ground network of Worker Support Centres with staff and volunteers helping thousands of migrant workers navigate and enforce their current legal rights and entitlements, as well as providing health and safety and “know your rights” training. To learn more about this important work, click here.