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Letter to Minister Elliott and Minister McNaughton regarding supports for seasonal workers during COVID-19 crisis

Dear Hon. Minister Elliott and Hon. Minister McNaughton,

We write to raise urgent concerns impacting migrant workers in our province. Seasonal farm workers are members of our communities and play an important role in maintaining Ontario’s food supply. Health workers providing services to these populations are sounding the alarm about inadequate supports for seasonal workers during the COVID-19 crisis.

Community led primary healthcare organizations provide quality care to people who need it the most. This includes seasonal workers in multiple regions, including Windsor-Essex, Chatham Kent, Harrow, Brantford, St Catharine’s, Brock, Port Hope and other communities in between. Seasonal workers face a range of barriers in accessing healthcare, including language barriers and limited familiarity with provincial health infrastructure. These pre-existing conditions present particular risks in the context of the COVID-19 crisis. We urge the province to adopt the following recommendations to mitigate risk to seasonal workers:

  • Immediately amend seasonal workers housing (bunkers) guidelines to ensure facilities accommodate social distancing directives. Require employers to ensure accommodations are available for workers who need to practice isolation to prevent COVID-19 spread.
  • Ensure that workers are aware that they can access healthcare facilities at no cost and without OHIP coverage to access COVID-19 assessment and treatment, (in line with provincial directive on extended healthcare access).
  • Prioritize public health coordination in regions with high seasonal worker populations; ensure mechanisms exist to provide health education to both workers and employers to mitigate COVID-19’s impact.
  • Fund community primary healthcare organizations to provide health outreach to seasonal workers.
  • Develop protocols for healthcare workers working with seasonal workers clearly outlining COVID-19 assessment and treatment guidelines.
  • Ensure health promotion and COVID-19 awareness materials are available in multiple languages.
  • Make financial and economic protections, which have been announced for other workers, immediately accessible to seasonal workers as well.

We urge the province to implement the recommendations above to mitigate impacts of COVID-19. Several community led primary healthcare organizations in the province are providing support to seasonal workers and would be more than willing to work with your government to determine the next steps. We recognize the vital place these workers occupy in Ontario’s workforce. Appropriate health and safety measures must be put in place to ensure safety for all.

Please let us know how we can work with you on this time sensitive issue.

Much appreciated,

Adrianna Tetley
CEO, Alliance for Healthier Communities

Tuesday, March 24, 2020