Migrant workers call for equal rights through permanent resident status so that they can protect themselves
Toronto, June 6, 2022 — Today, Scotlynn Farms, one of Canada’s largest employer of migrant farmworkers, pleaded guilty and agreed to pay a fine of $125,000 and a 25% surcharge in the second COVID-19-related prosecution of an employer under occupational health and safety laws in Ontario. Over 200 workers were infected at the farm during an outbreak in May and June 2020, when the virus ran rampant with no vaccines available, among workers housed and working in crowded and unsanitary conditions. One, Juan Lopez Chaparro, died. Migrant farmworker Gabriel Flores later won $25,000 for lost wages and reprisals after he was fired for speaking to the media about conditions on the farm.
“While Scotlynn gets a slap on the wrist, these kinds of exploitative working conditions remain common across the country because migrants can only come to Canada with precarious and vulnerable immigration status,” says Syed Hussan, Executive Director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change. “Canada has failed to protect the migrant workers who fed us and took care of us during the pandemic. The only way to establish fairness is to support equal rights for migrants by granting permanent residency so that they can defend themselves against abusive employers. Instead, Canada has made it easier for employers to hire more precarious, temporary migrants.”
“The fine will go to the municipality, but Juan’s family, Gabriel and other workers will receive no reparations; there is no justice done here,” says Syed Hussan. “Scotlynn is a mult-million dollar, multi-national corporation, and these fines are just the cost of doing business to them; Canada needs to give migrants equal rights so that they can protect themselves through permanent resident status.”
There is no real protection for most migrant farmworkers. In December 2021, the Auditor General of Canada found “significant shortcomings” in 73% of federal quarantine inspections reports filed in 2020, and 88% of federal inspections in 2021. Migrant farmworkers have less rights than other workers. In Ontario, they are excluded from basic provincial labour laws including minimum wage, limits on hours of work, rest periods, time off between shifts, overtime pay, weekly/bi-weekly rest periods, and public holidays. Their temporary, precarious status makes them vulnerable to abusive conditions and reprisals from employers.
Gabriel Flores, was able to secure a one-time vulnerable worker open work permit after he spoke up against Scotlynn. But he was unable to renew his permit and was forced to return to Mexico. On hearing the decision, he said, “After everything we did, everything remains the same. Without permanent residency, we still have no options to protect our families. Now I can no longer return to Canada. For the employer nothing has changed, he can continue to exploit the workers. This ‘justice’ is just a show.”
Despite thousands of farmworkers infected by COVID-19, and intense media scrutiny, no laws have been changed to grant equal rights for migrants by ensuring permanent resident status for all. The federal government’s response to the crisis has been grossly inadequate, exemplified by half measures that have yet to be implemented. In November 2020, the federal government promised national housing standards, which would not in any way have protected Gabriel or Juan, but even those have not been implemented. Minister Qualtrough promises a roundtable on the standards in June, but even that has not been announced. But employers continue to be given carte blanche, in April 2022, federal rules were changed to make it easier to hire an unlimited number of exploitable migrant workers.
Syed Hussan, firstname.lastname@example.org, 416-453-3632
- Migrant Workers Alliance for Change statement when these charges were laid in September 2021: https://migrantworkersalliance.org/press/no-justice-yet-as-first-charges-laid-after-deadly-covid-outbreak/
- Migrant Workers Alliance for Change statement on increased number of work permits allowed in Canada (April 2022): https://migrantworkersalliance.org/press/new-rules-makes-it-easier-for-employers-to-hire-migrant-workers-without-rights-and-protections/
- Migrant Workers Alliance for Change response to Auditor General’s findings (December 2021): https://migrantworkersalliance.org/press/release-damning-report-by-the-auditor-general-shows-that-canada-failed-to-protect-migrant-farmworkers-despite-warnings/
- Report by the Migrant Rights Network on the problems with federal government’s national housing consultations (November 2021): https://migrantworkersalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/MRN-Submission_-Decent-Dignified-Housing-for-Migrant-Farmworkers.pdf
- Letter to the newly elected Cabinet by almost all migrant groups in Canada (October 2021): https://migrantrights.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Letter-to-Cabinet-Migrant-Rights-Network-October-2021.pdf
- Presentation to Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration (April 2021): https://docs.google.com/document/d/e/2PACX-1vT_q_jBi-7bnBn2qiKCGieDdyj2wSEVSGpbiekyIMZyMfFt1jOBP5_RcH32ITDlBYNwwBzf3lqjcn_K/pub
- Letter to Cabinet from migrant farmworkers groups outlining urgent and priority policy changes required to protect food and farm workers’ safety and ensure equal rights (March 2021): https://migrantrights.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Migrant-Food-and-Farm-Workers-in-Canada-in-2021.pdf
- Report on conditions facing migrant farmworker that led to COVID-19 outbreaks (June 2020): https://migrantworkersalliance.org/policy/unheededwarnings/