One of the great tragedies of the COVID-19 pandemic is how it has spread through migrant workers who have come to Ontario to do temporary, seasonal jobs on farms and in greenhouses. Approximately 20,000 migrant workers come to Ontario each year, mainly from Mexico, Guatemala and the Caribbean.
The spread is severe enough that parts of southwest Ontario remain under restrictions that have been already lifted in the rest of the province. There are media reports that some 470 farm workers have tested positive for COVID-19 in the Windsor-Essex region alone. Tragically, three of these workers have died.
But it’s hard to tell the full extent of the spread among the approximately 8,000 migrant workers who have arrived. Only 750 of them have been tested. Some mobile testing sites in Ontario had to close due to a lack of workers coming in, probably because many of them are afraid of losing their precarious jobs if they are diagnosed with COVID-19.
Migrant workers have few rights and don’t have the benefits like paid sick leave that come from being in a strong union.
OPSEU has been working with the group Justicia for Migrant Workers for years to try to educate Ontarians about the working conditions of migrant workers.
This pandemic has shown us how vulnerable these workers are and how little governments have done to protect them.
The labour movement needs to be an even stronger voice in calling for better working conditions for these workers who put food on our tables.
We at OPSEU stand in solidarity with migrant workers and say it’s time they started to get the benefits and rights the rest of us take for granted.
OPSEU President, Warren (Smokey) Thomas
OPSEU First Vice-President/Treasurer, Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida