SEASONAL migrant workers employed on farms in Canada are living in communal conditions without social distancing or personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
They live two to three in a small room, in trailers, bunkers and farmhouses on the properties of their employers.
This was disclosed by Trinidad-born Chris Ramsaroop, head of the group Justice for Migrant Workers.
“The conditions are ripe for a pandemic,” he said.
He said migrant workers were given Can$1,500 from the Canadian government while being quarantined during the pandemic but there’s no other intervention. Ramsaroop’s statements on the living conditions of seasonal workers from Trinidad and Tobago and other Caribbean countries and Mexico, who work on Canadian apple, vegetable and tobacco farms, came after an outbreak of COVID-19 on the Green Hill Farm in Ontario.
Some 47 workers became infected with the virus after contracting it from a Canadian worker.
Hundreds of T&T nationals, under the Commonwealth Caribbean Seasonal Agricultural Workers programme managed by the Ministry of Labour, annually work on farms in Ontario and Alberta.
Canada has opened its borders during the pandemic to migrant workers, recognising their importance in helping to maintain that country’s food security and economic well-being.
But this year amidst the pandemic, workers from Trinidad and Tobago have been unable to receive clearance from the T&T Government to travel to Canada.
The plight of these migrant workers prompted a Zoom meeting last Friday by The University of the West Indies (UWI), Brock University of Canada, and the Canada/Caribbean Institute.
One of the speakers, Dr Talia Esnard, Deputy Dean, Student Support Services Unit at the UWI St Augustine Campus, said workers were quietly crying out to be treated fairly.
They are afraid to speak out openly for fear of being sent back home.
She said public health directives are not being implemented at the farms.
Outbreaks on farms
Dr Simon Black, assistant professor, labour studies at Brock University, said there were COVID-19 outbreaks on farms in British Columbia and Ontario.
He said many of the workers were already in the country prior to the restrictions.
Dr Claudette Patricia Jean Crawford-Brown, lecturer, Faculty of Social Sciences at the UWI Mona Campus, said Jamaicans are made to sign an agreement with the Jamaican government stating the government was not responsible for any health issues they may face.
She said many of the workers are from the most vulnerable group in society and desperation drives them to take the risk.
Upon arrival on the Canada farms, they are put into two-week quarantine.
Crawford-Brown said in the current situation with COVID-19, workers from the Caribbean are socially, economically and psychologically vulnerable.
Black said there are many challenges and injustices facing migrant workers in the programme that started in 1966 and which he said emerged out of slavery.
The programme operates on closed work permits tying workers to a specific employer.
They experience geographical and social isolation and have no guarantee of permanent residency in Canada.
For speaking out for their rights, they can face the threat of deportation and blacklisting.
The Express tried reaching Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus for a response, but was unsuccessful.
Last week, attorney Gerald Ramdeen issued a pre-action protocol letter against Baptiste-Primus on behalf of 150 farmers who are scheduled to work on farms in Canada but have not been granted approval to leave Trinidad.