Pressure applied to improve conditions for migrant workers photo

A group of law students from the University of Windsor have written a letter to the Minister of Immigration voicing their concerns about the safety of migrant farm workers and their living conditions.

They tell Minister Marco Mendicino the workers are vulnerable because of their poor living conditions and the nature of their employer-specific work permit and must be protected especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. The law students want the minister to grant agricultural migrant workers permanent status upon arrival to allow them to choose safer workplaces, stop their termination and deportation for reporting abuse, and issue open work permits to allow them to change work without permission if they’re abused or mistreated. They also want them to have access to employment insurance if they lose their jobs during COVID-19.

“Despite efforts to raise awareness around these issues, many migrant workers continue to live in conditions not fit for any human being, including crowded bunkhouses with little privacy, insect infestations, and non-functioning plumbing,” wrote Windsor law students Sarah Khan and Taneeta Doma.

They said the migrant workers living in those conditions are vulnerable to the transmission of COVID-19.

“Migrant farm workers are essential workers because they provide food security to Canadians. They deserve to be treated with more dignity,” they said.

The law students are also demanding better healthcare for migrant workers.

“During this pandemic, no one should be prevented from accessing healthcare because of their immigration status,” they added.

The letter points out that a current pilot project that allows some workers to apply for open work permits is too complicated because of paperwork, language barriers, and the difficulty in proving abuse.

The letter is accompanied by 110 signatures from students and faculty members of different universities.

Chatham-Kent Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Colby has previously said housing standards for migrant workers may have to be revised to prevent future outbreaks at farm and greenhouse operations after a COVID-19 outbreak at Greenhill Produce in Kent Bridge. Colby said the virus is spreading mainly in the bunkhouses and they were not designed for pandemic prevention. He said the bunkhouse environment is used at farms across Canada and is routinely inspected and the bunkhouses at Greenhill are not, in any way, substandard accommodation.