Migrant advocacy group pushes for immigrant status following tribunal victory, rising COVID-19 cases
WINDSOR, ONT. -- The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC) is renewing its call for the federal government to grant permanent immigration status for temporary foreign workers as a second wave of COVID-19 cases washes across Ontario.
On Thursday, the group held a news conference in Toronto to celebrate the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) decision to award Luis Gabriel Flores Flores, a migrant worker from Mexico, a $25,000 compensation package. A tribunal determined he was wrongfully fired by his employer, Scottlyn Sweetpac Growers, because he spoke to the media about his concerns after contracting the novel coronavirus.
“I’m here today to celebrate a victory for migrant workers in Canada,” said Flores through a translator at the news conference streamed on Facebook.
Syed Hussan, the executive director of MWAC, says migrant workers have been put at greater risk due to the nature of their work and living accommodations during the COVID-19 pandemic while providing the essential work needed for Canada’s food production.
Without permanent immigration status, Hussan says migrant workers face the threat of termination, homelessness, or deportation if they challenge their employers.
“A fair society is one with equal rights, and equal rights are not possible without full and permanent immigration status,” said Hussan.
The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit reported seven new cases tied to the agri-farm sector on Thursday and Hussan’s group counts at least 85 COVID-19 cases tied to the sector in the province.
“We are protecting ourselves in a pandemic but, migrants have had that power taken away from them by federal immigration laws, and until that power is returned people will continue to suffer,” said Hussan.
On the same day, new COVID-19 modeling was released by the Ontario government showing daily case counts could climb to between 3,000 and 6,500 a day.
According to Joseph Sbrocchi, the general manager of the Ontario Greenhoues Vegetable Growers (OGVG), none of his members have reported the same uptick in COVID-19 cases seen elsewhere in the agri-farm sector.
The group represents more than 220 farmers, largely centred in Kingsville and Leamington.
“We’re willing to engage in a dialogue and see where we can make things better,” said Sbrocchi. “I got to admit, I don’t believe that creating a landed immigrant status – they enjoy every protection that any worker in this country has, and then some.”
Sbrocchi adds there is already worker protections cemented in legislation for farm workers in the Agricultural Employees Protection Act and stresses owners have maintained personal protective equipment for workers to continue the essential job of picking fruits and vegetables for the dinner table.
“We’ve done everything we possibly can. We’ve worked very, very diligently with government to make sure we’re doing everything they’re asking and requiring of us,” said Sbrocchi.
Despite the efforts of the sector, Hussan says the best protection for migrant workers is still permanent immigrant status.
“It shouldn’t be on the individual goodwill of a person to ensure anyone else lives or dies,” said Hussan. “The point is that time for talk is over. The time for change is now.”
According to MWAC, Flores’ case is the first to be successful for a migrant farm worker. The OLRB awarded Flores a little more than $17,000 in lost and future earnings along with $5,000 for pain and suffering in addition to $2,600 for other damages.