The number of occupational injuries is constantly increasing among temporary foreign workers. It tripled between 2015 and 2020, according to data from the Commission for Standards, Equity, Health and Safety at Work (CNESST) obtained by The duty.
The non-durable goods manufacturing sector is particularly affected, especially the food manufacturing sector, where this workforce is growing. The duty also revealed Thursday that Rudy Samayoa, a temporary foreign worker in a meat processing plant, was still awaiting treatment with only one week left on his work permit.
After two failed attempts to obtain an open work permit in order to remain in the territory, he despairs of finding a solution. Mr. Samayoa believes he was fired following an employment injury because his contract was not renewed for the first time in seven years. Rather, his employer, Viandes Lacroix, considers it to be an “end-of-employment agreement”, the details of which “are confidential”.
The number of occupational injuries, a category that includes work accidents and occupational diseases, rose from 666 in 2015 to 2,176 in 2020. Even after subtracting the number of cases related to COVID-19 recorded in 2020 among foreign workers temporary (276), the increase remains notable.
The number of claims for occupational injuries has also generally increased, noted a spokesperson for the CNESST earlier this summer: between 2016 and 2019, all employment sectors combined, claims increased by 18%. However, this increase is much lower than that observed among temporary foreign workers, which is 200%.
The number of these workers is indeed growing, but it has not multiplied as quickly: it has doubled in five years. However, it is called upon to continue to climb, since Quebec and Ottawa reached a new agreement on the issue in August. Quebec businesses will be able to hire twice as many low-wage temporary foreign workers, since the maximum threshold is reduced from 10% to 20% per business. The agriculture sector was exempt from this quota; there are already more than 20% of temporary foreign labor.
It is in the manufacturing of non-durable goods – the sector to which the Viandes Lacroix plant where Rudy Samayoa works – that we count more than a quarter of all occupational injuries approved by the CNESST among temporary foreign workers. Yet it is the agricultural sector that employs the majority of them in Quebec – between 70% and 75%, depending on the year.
The CNESST was unable to explain the reasons behind this increase. A spokesperson, however, insisted on the fact that “immigrant clientele is one of the priority clienteles targeted in the 2020-2023 strategic plan”. She also recognizes that they face additional challenges, including a lack of knowledge of the language of work.
Foreign workers must themselves find an interpreter service; they therefore often call on support organizations. “I think that the increase must in part be due to the fact that we have been very active with temporary foreign workers,” notes Michel Pilon, coordinator of the Quebec migrant agricultural workers support network ( RATTMAQ). This organization has more than 40 active files at the CNESST in matters of workplace injuries, according to him.
There is no obligation for an employer in Quebec to report a work accident.
In an interview earlier this summer, Katherine Lippel, professor specializing in occupational health and safety law at the University of Ottawa, stressed that a reframing of this neglected aspect is necessary: ”COVID or not, there is has an underreporting of occupational injuries. In other provinces other than Quebec, if you are the victim of an industrial accident or other employment injury, there is an obligation and a very heavy fine if the employer does not do so. ” Ontario imposes this obligation in particular.
Several studies have documented the phenomenon of underreporting of occupational injuries. Among precarious workers, it is still “so widespread that it raises serious criticisms of equity”, has also underlined Professor Lippel in a study carried out with her colleague Sylvie Gravel, from UQAM, and several other collaborators.
Minister Jean Boulet is currently piloting an overhaul of the main Quebec labor laws provided for in the of Bill 59, which is still under study. However, there are no changes to this aspect.
A sector at risk
Like many other meat processing companies, Viandes Lacroix faces accidents and occupational illnesses every year. According to a compilation of CNESST reports that we obtained under the Access to Information Act, the most frequent accidents are falls from a slippery floor, fingers or hands trapped in certain areas. packaging machines or musculoskeletal disorders.
The CNESST found several violations there. The company was fined between 2013 and 2015, when it was closely monitored.
The provincial body recognizes that meat production lines, in slaughterhouses or processing plants, “are conducive to the development of musculoskeletal disorders in the wrist, elbow and shoulder”. The tenosynovitis that Mr. Samayoa suffers from falls into this category.
“It is certain that it is an activity with strong physical constraints. There are several risky situations: awkward posture, significant efforts, exerted forces, repetitive movements. All of this increases the risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders, ”notes Marie-Ève Major, ergonomist and professor at the University of Sherbrooke. All the more so since this type of job involves “certain periods of high intensity” which expose workers even more to this type of injury.
Both employers and employees need to learn to recognize these disorders, she believes. “A back pain, it is not visible, or in any case, less well than someone who cuts. “
What solutions for cases like those of Rudy Samayoa?