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Letter to Minister Elliott, Minister McNaughton and Dr. Williams regarding public health guidelines for asymptomatic migrant agricultural workers

Dear Hon. Minister Elliott, Hon. Minister McNaughton and Dr. Williams,

We are writing to express our deep concern regarding the Public Health Guideline introduced for farms and the agricultural sector, which allows positive asymptomatic migrant agricultural workers to continue working. This is a noticeable departure from guidelines that have been given to all other essential workers. No other group is expected to work if they test positive for COVID-19. Everyone else in the province is required to self-isolate and can only return to work after two negative COVID tests. This protects workers and limits COVID transmission. We are deeply concerned about why the same protections are not being afforded to farm workers.

During the press conference announcing the three-point action plan to address outbreaks in the Windsor-Essex region, Minister McNaughton assured that migrant workers have the same rights as all other workers in the province. The new Public Health Guidance for migrant workers directly contravenes this statement. Unlike other labourers, farm workers are required to work while ill and assurances are not being given that they will continue to receive wages should they need to cease working to recover.

Migrant farm workers are essential to our food supply, yet we continue to deny them the same rights and protections as the majority of residents of Ontario. Even before COVID-19, this population faced numerous documented violations of their rights, inadequate housing, poor access to services and racism, and COVID-19 has further exacerbated these inequities. Growing outbreaks in migrant worker communities, and now deaths of three workers, are the result of the province’s failure to act quickly to put proper protections and supports in place. These workers have contracted COVID while working in farms in Ontario. Rightfully, the province should extend care and support to these workers and prioritize protection for labourers in the sector.

While maintaining food supply is important, we can’t do it at the expense of migrant workers’ rights and safety. We urge the province to urgently address these inequities immediately by:

  • Extending the same protections to migrant farm workers that are extended to other labourers in Ontario by requiring that asymptomatic workers be supported until they test negative. No labourers should be required to work while recovering from a pandemic that has led to the deaths of over 2,600 people in Ontario.
  • Extending compensation to workers who test positive and need to self-isolate until they test negative. Workers must be given access to either WSIB or CERB, regardless of whether they exhibit any symptoms.

We urge the province to immediately reverse this decision. The focus on the operational business needs over the lives and health of migrant workers who are playing a critical role in maintaining Ontario’s food chain is unjust and harms essential workers responding during this pandemic.

Sincerely,

Adrianna Tetley
CEO, Alliance for Healthier Communities

Monday, June 29, 2020