Windsor, Ont. – July 21, 2020 – UFCW Canada recently presented to the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit to advocate for better health and safety protections for migrant workers labouring in the Windsor, Ontario area as it grapples with multiple COVID-19 outbreaks at local farming operations.
During the online meeting, held on July 20, UFCW Canada National Representative Santiago Escobar discussed our union’s long-standing work with the Agriculture Workers Alliance (AWA) in support of migrant workers across the country, and the strong relationships that UFCW and the AWA have built with the migrant community in Windsor-Essex County operating our Migrant Workers Support Centre in Leamington over the last 18 years.
Brother Escobar explained to the health unit’s board members that, while our union has been successful in assisting migrant workers with Workplace Safety & Insurance Board (WSIB) claims, obtaining open work permits to help workers escape abusive and unsafe work environments, and helping migrant workers access a range of government benefits, sustained collaboration between governments, employers, and unions will be needed to address the coronavirus outbreaks that are currently ravaging farms in the Windsor area.
To date, hundreds of migrant farm workers in Windsor-Essex County have contracted COVID-19 and three workers in Ontario – two in the Windsor area and one in Norfolk County – have passed away from the virus, with workers reporting hazardous working conditions at farms and greenhouses, as well as cramped living quarters, a lack of physical distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE), and negligent employers who are failing to protect workers from being exposed to the coronavirus.
In response to these developments, UFCW Canada encouraged the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit to help save lives in the migrant worker community by working with unions, employers, and governments at all levels to adopt the following measures:
- Utilize the UFCW/AWA Migrant Workers Support Centre in Leamington as a hub to reach out to migrant farm workers in the area and inform them of their rights at work;
- Close all farms and greenhouses where COVID-19 outbreaks have occurred until these facilities have been controlled and proper sanitation has taken place;
- Workers who have tested positive for COVID-19 should be provided with hotel rooms and nutritious meals and monitored daily by health care professionals while they recover from the virus;
- End overcrowded housing conditions and inspect workers’ accommodations before and during their occupation to prevent the spread of COVID-19;
- Provide health and safety resources and information on COVID-19 in languages that migrant workers understand, as many workers do not speak English;
- Test workers regularly for COVID-19 and ensure that testing facilities are open after standard work hours, which usually end at 8pm for many migrant workers;
- Provide access to paid sick leave for migrant farm workers;
- Ban the practice of housing workers above or adjacent to greenhouses in recognition of the apparent dangers associated with living in buildings that house chemicals, fertilizers, boilers, industrial fans, and/or heaters; and
- Provide access to testing for pesticide exposure and poisoning.
“Like all workers in Canada, migrant farm workers deserve safe and healthy work environments, humane living conditions, and respect on the job, and every precaution should be taken to protect these workers from contracting the coronavirus,” says Escobar.
“In light of the numerous COVID-19 outbreaks at farms across the Windsor area, we are asking the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit to work collaboratively with our union, as well as employers and governments, to help contain the spread of the coronavirus and keep migrant workers safe,” he adds.
For more than three decades, UFCW Canada has worked in collaboration with the Agriculture Workers Alliance (AWA) to lead the fight for migrant workers’ rights. To learn more about this important work, visit UFCW Canada’s Agriculture Workers website.