Friday, May 30, 2014


Migrant workers health rights unmet
Migrant farm workers Kenroy Williams (left) and Denville Clarke (right) have been fighting for compensation since a 2012 crash.
A recent court decision denying injured migrant farm workers health care after their
 work visas expire is only the
 latest attack on these workers' health rights, according to advocates, who say these
 labourers die, are injured or are exposed to carcinogenic chemicals with impunity in Canada.

In mid-April, the Ontario Divisional Court ruled the province 
does not have to pay for health care for Denville Clarke and Kenroy 
Williams, two Jamaicans formerly employed by the Seasonal Agricultural
 Worker Program (SAWP).
Nearly 30 000 migrant workers come to Canada each year
 under the program, with the majority working in Ontario.
Clarke and Williams were injured in a 2012 crash while
 riding to work in their employer's van, which they say didn't 
have enough seatbelts for all nine passengers. One worker
 was killed in the crash and the others were sent to their
 home countries, but Clarke and Williams stayed in Ontario 
to fight for compensation.
While all temporary farm workers are entitled to injury compensation,
 it's woefully inadequate and nearly
 impossible to access after workers leave the country,
 according to Chris Ramsaroop, an organizer with advocacy group Justicia
 for Migrant Workers. Clarke and Williams say none of their fellow injured
 passengers have received any compensation.
Clarke said he can no longer turn his neck to the left and
has pain that "shoots straight down my spine." Williams 
reports frequent bouts of dizziness and often has to lie 
down when his pain becomes unbearable, as he can no
 longer afford medication. While two earlier court decisions forced the Ontario
 government to provide provincial health coverage while the two seek injury 
compensation from the Workers' Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), the most 
recent decision cut them off as of Mar. 31.
In court, the Ontario Health Ministry argued that a decision 
in Clarke and Williams' favour would mean the government would have to pay
 for migrant workers' health coverage "in perpetuity." But Dr. Ritika Goel,
 a Toronto-based physician 
who lobbies for health care access for people living in
 Canada without status, called this concern "ridiculous." 
The ministry could decide who to cover on a case-by-case 
basis, she noted. "It's exceptional that migrant workers are injured 
here and need to stay."
"I feel pissed off…it feels like we are animals," said Williams,
 a single father who can no longer afford school fees for his 
five children. He has earned $300 a week as a farm worker in Canada
 since 2006; back home in Jamaica, he can only find work as a driver,
 which pays $25 a week.
Paucity of data
Several government bodies were contacted regarding the 
rate of injury and death among migrant farm workers, to no
 avail. According to Janet McLaughlin, a researcher with the
 International Migration Research Centre, such information is
 not publicly available.
Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (F.A.R.M.S.),
 a private organization contracted by the federal government to administer
 the SAWP program in Ontario,
 does keep these numbers, but F.A.R.M.S. general manager
 Sue Williams wouldn't release this data, citing "privacy 
A portion of the F.A.R.M.S. data was, however, submitted
 to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal in 2012, after the
 family of Ned Peart, a Jamaican man who was crushed to 
death by a tobacco kiln in 2002, filed a complaint. It argued
 that Peart's rights were violated because under the Ontario
 Coroner's Act inquiries are automatically held into workers
 deaths' in some sectors, but not in agriculture. There has 
never been an inquiry into the death of a migrant farm 
worker in Canada, said Ramsaroop. Peart's family is still 
waiting for the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal to make a decision.
According to that data, between 1996 and 2011, 1198 
migrant farm workers in Ontario were sent home for 
"medical reasons." When an employer fires a worker or 
sends a worker home on medical grounds, they have no
 legal recourse to appeal, Ramsaroop added.
"Migrant farm workers' rights are protected by the
 government liaison officer of their source country,"
 stated Jordan Sinclair, a spokesperson for Human Resources and 
Skills Development Canada, the federal government body
 that authorizes the SAWP program, in an email.
The liaison officers are expected to, among other regulatory tasks,
 inform workers of their rights (which includes the 
right to refuse unsafe work), inspect housing, ensure workers have
 health and injury insurance and act as an intermediary when employers 
terminate a worker, Sinclair wrote.
But advocates argue that the liaison officers' role of 
upholding rights is thwarted by conflict of interest. The
 officers' jobs and their country's economy depend on maintaining
 their country's spots in the temporary worker programs. Therefore,
 liaison officers strive to ensure their country's workers are seen as
 agreeable in the eyes of employers.
"Each of the countries is competing for jobs," said 
Ramsaroop. "They think of the contract first and the
 workers' interest second."
Interestingly, however, migrant workers are treated like Canadians in at least
 one respect: their injury compensation
 is cut off, often within a year, if, despite their injury, they are deemed able
 to work in another occupation with a 
comparable pay rate in Ontario, such as pumping gas — a practice
 known as "deeming."
"Migrant workers are entitled to the same benefits as any
 worker in an Ontario workplace," wrote Christine Arnott,
 public relations specialist for WSIB.
When asked why a migrant worker who is only entitled to
 work in agriculture is treated as though they can work in
 any industry, Arnott replied, "We have provided you with 
all of the information we have."
While Arnott couldn't comment on any specific cases, 
Maryth Yachnin, the lawyer for Williams and Clarke in the provincial health
 care case, said Williams and Clarke were 
likely also cut off by WSIB because of deeming.
Workers used as "machines"
In addition to injuries related to road and farm equipment accidents, migran
t workers also experience health problems stemming from pesticide exposure,
 cramped and isolated
 living conditions and the repetitive nature of their work.
"The ones we see most often are musculoskeletal pain and injuries," said McLaughlin.
 Most workers don't demand 
reduced hours or modified work because of the precarious nature of their employment,
 she added. In late April, 
a worker informed Ramsaroop he'd been fired for refusing to work without gloves.
Goel said workers are reluctant to report an injury or health concern, because they
 fear they could be sent home.
 "We've created really terrible power dynamics."
In terms of chemical exposure, "people have thrown up, 
people have fainted, and we also see kidney failure,
" Ramsaroop said, but it's difficult for workers to prove the
 link between exposure and their symptoms. "The long-term effects are going to
 be years down the road."
Mental health issues are also rife among migrant workers because of the lack
 of down-time and the alienating environment, added Goel. "You're being watched
 at all times, you're working 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week and you're
 far away from all of your loved ones. We're essentially using these people as machines."
While all migrant farm workers are entitled to health
 coverage for the duration of their work visas,
 access to health care is an issue. Workers must often
 rely on their employers for transportation to clinics and in
 some cases, are accompanied into the examination room
 by their boss, said Ramsaroop. Meanwhile, some employers delay registering 
their employees for health 
cards or illegally hold their employees' health cards, he explained.
McLaughlin argues the treatment of migrant farm workers
 raises a major question for Canadians. "What kind of society
 are we living in where we bring workers here to work year 
after year and they pay their taxes, and then they suffer a 
major injury or illness and we refuse to help them in their 
time of need?"

No comments:

Post a Comment