Doug Ford must implement emergency protection for agri-workers

 [[{“value”:”The following is an open letter from Justice for Migrant Workers (J4MW) to Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Labour Minister David Piccini.
The post Doug Ford must implement emergency protection for agri-workers appeared first on rabble.ca.”}]] [[{“value”:”

Justice for Migrant Workers (J4MW) continues to reiterate its previous demand that the provincial government implements immediate emergency protections for the tens of thousands of agricultural workers employed in Ontario.

2024 is once again becoming one of the hottest years on record. In the last few weeks alone, temperatures have soared and Ontario has become a heat dome while tens of thousands of workers labour without heat protections. Farm workers are 35 times more likely than the general public to die of heat exposure. The province should not wait for a tragedy to happen before it passes legislation to protect the foundation of Canada’s food system: farm workers.

On June 24, 2024, J4MW released a public statement imploring the provincial government to take immediate actions to protect farm workers. J4MW released a similar statement in July of last year, to which the Ontario government responded by platitudes for farm workers and a commitment to enacting heat regulations. Nearly one year on, no such regulations have been enacted.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission has stated that access to cooling is a human rights issue, and that people with disabilities, Black, and low-income community members are disproportionately affected when heat waves and other heat events occur. Denying migrant farmworkers, who are overwhelmingly racialized, who are more likely to be injured on the job, and who work long hours for little pay, is a form of environmental racism.

While the Ontario government twiddles its thumbs, farm workers continue to work under the same backbreaking conditions as always. The province has left it to their employers to provide proper breaks, hours of work, access to shade and water, and proper wages – a responsibility that employers continue to shirk, as workers have reported ongoing issues amidst the heat waves.

It should not be up to migrant workers to raise concerns given the extreme heightened vulnerability they experience due to their precarious immigration status in Canada. There are still no anti-reprisal mechanisms in place to protect workers from discipline, termination, and repatriation for raising concerns.

Other jurisdictions have enacted protections, such as Washington, California, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Colorado. The United States itself has proposed a national heat standard. When will Ontario become a trailblazer for workers’ protections, instead of implementing piecemeal standards that exclude agricultural workers?

We once again share the comments of Johnathon, a migrant worker from Trinidad and Tobago, whose concerns are echoed by other workers that are not safe to speak out:

“Hello, I would like to share a bit on what my co-workers and myself are facing at the farm located in the Haldimand Norfolk region.. My name is Johnathon and I’ve been working in Canada’s agricultural fields for almost 12 yrs. I’ve harvested a lot of fruits and vegetables over the years. Apples, carrots, tomatoes and many others. I love it here in Canada but there are alot of serious issues and ill treatment farm workers face that no one is aware of and also the weather conditions we have to work in. I’m almost certain 70-80% of Canada’s agricultural sector comes from the work of migrant workers, yet enough isn’t being done for us. My co-workers and I even had to work in temperatures of 38-45 degrees when a heat warning is in effect.

A lot of us are afraid to raise any attention or speak out because we would be victimize or not be requested back to work the following year in Canada if we did. A few days ago whilst harvesting apples approximately around 2pm, management told the bin operators to remove the bins of apples out of the fields because they were getting sunburn. We honestly couldn’t believe it, so we said amongst ourselves, if the apples can get sunburn, what about us who are there working in bare heat with no shelter. A lot of workers that are on farms work in conditions that a normal Canadian citizen will never do.

It affects us a lot both physically and mentally. Not because we are not beaten or whipped, we are being treated well. Employers also control farm workers mentally, by having us afraid to speak out, because we know that if we do, we would no longer be employed or be able to come to Canada to provide for our families. I’m hoping that the Government of Ontario and Canada look into the major issues and problems along with the conditions that workers face on an everyday basis.

Thank you”

The Ford government must enact protections to address occupational health and safety hazards such as heat stress, poor air quality, and chemical and pesticide exposure. Ontario provides no industry-specific regulations for agricultural workers, exacerbating an already crisis-level situation. To continue this inaction, to ignore the voices of farm workers and to subject a predominantly racialized workforce to differential treatment is the classic definition of environmental racism.

Farmworkers are raising the alarm regarding the hazards of air quality as well as the sweltering heat both in greenhouses and in the fields. Several workers have raised fears of the long term consequences of poor air quality resulting from the forest fires. Other workers are demanding action against the sweltering heat and potential health implications.

Justice for Migrant Workers (J4MW) is demanding the implementation of emergency measures including:

Workers who work in the heat must be central and key decision makers in any proposed regulations regarding heat stress;

Shutting down farms and paying workers in extreme crisis events;

Paying workers when they are not employed as a result of climate-related issues such as forest fires, extreme heat, major thunderstorms and heavy rain;

Enacting heat stress protections for workers that are in the interest of workers;

Strengthening anti-reprisal measures and proactive inspections;

Implementing paid breaks and providing permanent paid sick days for agricultural workers;

Providing sufficient shelters, functioning bathrooms and drinking water for workers at the expense of the employer;

Providing first aid, hydration stations, and on-site medical support (RN or RPNs);

Permitting third party complaints at the Ontario Labour Relations Board;

Ending agricultural exclusions under the Employment Standards Act;

Incorporating race and gender analysis in both occupational health and safety and employment standards;

Ensuring that agricultural harvesters are being paid holiday pay;

Implementing clear trigger temperatures for extreme heat and humidity, including indoor temperatures (e.g., greenhouses);

Preventive measures to avoid overheating that include: specific requirements for shade, acclimatization for new and returning workers, mandatory cool-down rest periods during high temperatures, along with access to preventive cool-down measures as needed;

Extend OSHA protections to cover agricultural worker accommodations;

Implement protections for both extreme heat and extreme cold temperature.

Ford has the necessary tools to address long standing issues raised by farm workers. These are not new issues. It’s time to act. Immediate and urgent measures are required to end the structural violence farm workers endure as a result of legal exclusions that exist within Ontario’s legislative framework.

J4MW also reiterates our longstanding demands for: permanent status on arrival for migrant farm workers, an end to unilateral repatriations and disbarment, and equal access to entitlements such as EI and CPP.

Justice for Migrant Workers (J4MW) is an all-volunteer collective that consists of current and former workers, labour and community activists and scholars who advocate for fairness, dignity and respect for agricultural workers.

The post Doug Ford must implement emergency protection for agri-workers appeared first on rabble.ca.

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