Caravan seeks justice for migrant workers in Essex County


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A group advocating for migrant farm workers’ rights caravanned around Essex County on Sunday to shine a light on ongoing issues in the agricultural community.

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Chris Ramsaroop, an organizer with Justicia for Migrant Farm Workers, led dozens of supporters in vehicles as they visited area farms where temporary foreign workers have reportedly died or suffered injury.

“It’s to highlight some of the injustices that workers are facing, and also to raise concerns,” Ramsaroop said. “The federal and provincial governments continue to ignore the issues that the community faces.”

Since the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program began in Canada in 1966, migrant workers have reported experiencing numerous difficulties with workplace and living conditions. Workers have been repatriated for being injured and for standing up for their rights, unable to return to Canada for work, Ramsaroop said.

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He added that, through the program, workers do not have access to permanent residence, are tied to a single employer, and lack protections under the Employment Standards Act — all problems advocates are pressing the provincial and federal governments to address.

In Ontario, dozens of temporary foreign workers have died since Ramsaroop began his advocacy work 20 years ago. The exact number is unknown, he said, because various levels of government “have not been forthcoming.” In addition, some workers are injured or become sick in Canada and are sent back to die in their home counties.

Chris Ramsaroop, an organizer with Justicia for Migrant Workers, speaks to members of the media about a caravan gathered in a Leamington parking lot seeking protections and better conditions for temporary foreign workers on Sunday, June 12, 2022.
Chris Ramsaroop, an organizer with Justicia for Migrant Workers, speaks to members of the media about a caravan gathered in a Leamington parking lot seeking protections and better conditions for temporary foreign workers on Sunday, June 12, 2022. Photo by Taylor Campbell /Windsor Star

Bonifacio Eugenio-Romero and Rogelio Muños Santos, both migrant workers from Mexico, died of COVID-19 in 2020 while working on Essex County farms. Ramsaroop said COVID also claimed the life of local temporary foreign worker Tyrone Lee Jackson a few months ago.

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Those gathered who joined the caravan in Leamington included current and past migrant farm workers, some of whom said they’d been injured on the job. Some traveled from Toronto to support the cause, while others were from Leamington, Kingsville, and Windsor.

The group’s top concern continues to be the work program’s “closed” work permit limitation, meaning workers are only legally allowed to work for one employer. Ramsaroop’s group said that workers who encounter problems with their initial employer should be allowed to work on a different farm.

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Separately, occupational health and safety issues around chemicals and working at heights without protection “remain daily concerns from workers,” Ramsaroop said. “Workers are still alleging that they’re being sprayed while working with pesticides.”

“This is not about abolishing the program. This is not about saying that workers should not be able to come to Canada,” he said. “It’s about respecting their contributions to our society and ensuring they have a right to be equals amongst us. That means (having) protections at work just like the rest of us.”

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