June 18, 2020 - No. 42

Canada-Wide Campaign Demands Status for All!

Migrant Rights Network
Launches Campaign

Mexican Government Stops Sending Temporary Foreign Workers to Canada
National Farmers Union-Ontario Issues Statement
Coronavirus Spreads to Temporary Foreign Agricultural Workers in Quebec

Situation of Frontline Workers During Pandemic
Ontario Paramedics' Urgent Need for Adequate Protective Equipment - Interview, Jason Fraser, Chair, Canadian Union of Public Employees Ontario Ambulance Committee
Quebec Health Care Unions Demand Preparations to Face Possible Second Wave

Canada-Wide Campaign Demands Status for All!

Migrant Rights Network Launches Campaign

On Sunday, June 14, Migrant Rights Network hosted a historic Canada-wide digital rally to launch a campaign to have the government of Canada regularize the status and recognize rights for all migrant workers. It is a call to put an end to a Canadian state sponsored system of human trafficking which targets migrant workers, undocumented workers and refugees.

More than 700 people were logged onto the English language forum Sunday afternoon. The event was held in Spanish later the same day. Many more watched the broadcast on social media platforms and at least 40 rights organizations endorsed it. This digital rally brought into sharp focus the fight that is being waged by the most vulnerable sections of the Canadian working class, standing up to affirm their rights as working people and human beings. This is a struggle and cause of the entire Canadian working class and people.

The June 14 digital rally began with an acknowledgment by migrant workers that the land they have come to for work is stolen land, where Indigenous sovereignty is not recognized by the same authorities who deny migrant workers' rights; where Indigenous women go missing or are murdered as a matter of course; where Indigenous people are incarcerated and murdered by police.

The host also noted that in response to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying Canada must do better, migrant workers say to Trudeau: "Do it today, and take action to ensure full status for all." Racial injustice and migrant rights, she said, are an issue for the entire Canadian working class and people. She stressed that recovery from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be complete without full immigration status for all, so migrant children can get an education and medical treatment, so migrant worker families can be reunited and the systemic discrimination in wages and living conditions of these most vulnerable working people is ended. Every worker without status should be regularized, she said, and called on anyone who is not a member of a migrant rights organization to join, to become a member and part of this struggle.

Below is a brief summary of the interventions made by those who spoke out for their rights on June 14.

Caregivers Action Centre, Toronto

Winnie said that she, like many others, came to Canada to take care of Canadian families, children, the sick, 'you.' "We are care workers. We live with your family, prepare your children for their future. We work many hours yet are the lowest paid and sometimes not even paid for many extra hours worked." She has been separated from her family for six years. "We're forced to stay in our employer's home, even when we are not working. We will be fired if we leave. We are like slaves. When I lost my job I had no money, no place to live. My employer treated me very badly and many care workers experience the same thing. But I was strong and stood up for my rights and got help from migrant workers support organizations. We demand status now. We want status without preconditions of language, education and so forth. We are women of colour. We are essential workers. We are in mourning. Two migrant workers died in recent weeks. We did not come to Canada to die. We came to work and support our families. We will not work and live in fear any more. We are not asking for special treatment. Today we demand status for everyone. We demand our rights. Join us!"

Jamaican Farmworker in Niagara, Ontario

Claude said he is one of 60,000 migrant farmworkers across the country, based in the Niagara wine and fruit growing area of southern Ontario. "I have to be separated from my family to provide food for yours. We do the most dangerous and dirty jobs. Our health and safety are at risk. There have been two deaths of agricultural workers due to COVID-19. We come to Canada for a better life, not to die. No more deaths! Canada says it is a family oriented country. We need to be united with our families. We want to bring ours back together. We want full status."

Niagara Greenhouse Worker

Blanca works in a greenhouse in the Niagara region. She has been working in Canada for 18 years. "My husband died in 1990," she said, "due to these conditions. The Canadian government should give permanent resident status to us migrant workers in recognition of the important work we do, in memory of my husband and others (Blanca then read the names of migrant farmworkers who have died in Canada). We want permanent status now!"

Migrant Workers from Mexico

Laura said she moved to Canada with her husband and baby daughter five years ago. "We were scammed by people who took our money and did nothing to help settle us. At that time I was pregnant with my second baby. We did not even have shelter. A local migrant support group helped us. Our second child is Canadian born but is denied everything because of our lack of status. My husband is a cleaner and construction worker. We are active in community groups and contribute to Canadian society in many ways. Our work is dignified. It is essential to the Canadian economy. Permanent status for all migrant workers, farm workers, care givers, is a completely just demand. We strongly believe we have the right to all basic necessities: shelter, education for our children, and decent treatment at work -- the same as everyone else. Status for all!"

Migrante Alberta

Evalyn Royo from Migrante Alberta said she came to Canada under a temporary workers program. "We were invited here to work in jobs that are dangerous -- hard work and poor pay. For any number of reasons, many have had to make the decision to stay and continue to live and work here undocumented. Many migrants, and especially the undocumented, have no supports. It was so before COVID-19, but it is now glaring. In Alberta many migrant workers employed in meat packing, for example, have to choose to go to work and risk infection or be forced to return home. We work like any other worker. These are permanent jobs, not temporary jobs. Why do we not have the right to permanent status? Support the call of our organization. Support status for all!"

Haitian Undocumented Worker in Montreal

Mamadou is an undocumented Haitian worker living in Montreal. "I am tired of living in fear of being stopped for an ID check on the metro, in fear of becoming sick, in fear of losing my apartment. That's why I'm speaking up today on my own behalf and on behalf of others like me, to tell Trudeau that we are tired of hiding and living in shadows and seeing families divided because of lack of status. We have no health care. Injustices are forced upon people without status. COVID-19 didn't make us essential. We were essential before COVID-19 and are essential now. That's why we are demanding status for all!"

South Asian Refugee in Mississauga, Ontario

Mika is a South Asian refugee living in Mississauga. She said she applied for status but has no idea what her status is. She has been abused; by her husband, by immigration lawyers, by immigration itself, by police. "But I cannot even complain," she said, "because I don't have status. If I have status I can fight for my rights. I am not alone. We need to be heard. We need your help to fight for our rights."

Migrant International Student

Rahil spoke about the situation many migrant and international students are facing. "International students," she said, "work in many essential services, in third world conditions, with very low wages. We are mistreated because of our temporary status. Often we can't find jobs, pay our rent, pay our bills. But we are connecting with other student organizations around Canada to demand full status for all. We will continue building collective power with migrants and others to fight for basic rights."

Migrante Canada Member in Toronto

Marisol said she came to Canada in 2012. "Today I have to live in the shadows, breaking my back, enduring abuse and exploitation in my work place. We are not machines. We are human beings with needs and rights. That is why we migrant workers, care workers, refugees, undocumented workers want status for all. Canada must acknowledge our rights. It is high time to organize ourselves, unite and fight. Let our voice be heard across Canada. Let us stand together, strong and invincible. We are the backbone across this country. We want our rights and we want them now!"

Workers' Forum calls on our readers to take up this important struggle. To read the text of the statement "Full Immigration Status for All" click here. Add your name to the telephone campaign to tell your local MPs and the Prime Minister to provide Status for All by visiting the Migrant Rights Network website.

The digital rally was preceded by a solidarity caravan that travelled from Toronto to Niagara on June 13, 2020. It rallied in Hamilton, Beamsville and St. Catharines. At the constituency office for Liberal MP for St. Catharines Chris Bittle, messages were chalked in the parking lot and signs taped to the door demanding full status for all migrants. (Migrant Workers Alliance for Change)

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Mexican Government Stops Sending
Temporary Foreign Workers to Canada

On June 15, Mexico's Ambassador to Canada announced that his government will not be sending any more temporary foreign workers to Canada until it has more clarity on why two died due to COVID-19. The two workers were 31-year old Bonifacio Eugenio Romero who died on May 30, and 24-year-old Rogelio Muñoz Santos who died June 5 in Southwestern Ontario. Bonifacio was employed at Woodside Greenhouses in Kingsville in Essex County and Rogelio at Greenhill Produce in Chatham-Kent.

In an interview, His Excellency Juan José Gómez Camacho said that the change is so the Mexican government "can reassess with the federal authorities, provinces and farmers why this happened and if there is anything to correct." His government needs assurances that the situation can be brought under control, he said, before allowing more workers to arrive. Ambassador Gómez Camacho informed that across Canada, 300 Mexicans are believed to have been infected with the novel coronavirus.

This change affects at least 5,000 temporary foreign workers who were expected to travel to Canada in the coming months, as well as numerous agricultural operations across the country where they were to work. These operations have already been greatly affected by measures to contain the pandemic that prevent normal operations. It is reported that workers from Mexico make up about half of the temporary foreign worker population employed in the agriculture sector, which in 2018 amounted to 25,060 people employed on farms, in greenhouses and other related jobs.[1]

The ambassador noted that some agriculture firms who have reported outbreaks are asking Mexico to keep sending people, and said "that will not happen." He did say that the pause is intended to be temporary, respecting the fact that farmers often need workers at specific times. However he said the workers would not be allowed to leave for Canada until Canadian officials increased their monitoring of the implementation of health and safety rules, and ensured that workers are paid while in isolation.

The ambassador made reference to measures adopted by the Canadian government to put protections in place to limit the spread of COVID-19, including requirements for migrant workers to spend 14 days in quarantine when they arrive. The federal government has provided funds to employers to cover 60 hours of pay per worker and other costs of the mandatory initial quarantine requirement as well as the purchase of personal protective equipment. Gómez Camacho said the Mexican government worked with Canadian officials to design some of those supports, including a provision that workers be paid while quarantined upon arriving in Canada. How and even if these measures are being implemented and enforced varies from province to province and workplace to workplace, while the working conditions and especially living conditions of migrant workers continue to make social distancing and strict sanitation measures problematic, if not impossible.

The Mexican government also put in place a program this year that saw only workers who were requested by name by Canada's farms and greenhouses be allowed to travel here. The ambassador said many workers are connected to small family farms and have developed relationships over time. The pause on allowing more to arrive is a nod to that relationship, he said. "We are doing this out of solidarity with Canada," he said. "We understand the role these workers play in your food chain."

While the ambassador referred to small family farms and solidarity with Canada by helping guarantee its food supply during the pandemic, the Mexican government is also aware that Canada relies on the value created by these workers in the form of agricultural exports. In a communiqué announcing the departure of this year's first contingent of workers in early April, the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs mentioned among other things that Canada is the world's fifth largest exporter of agricultural products, and that this represents a core part of its economy. Furthermore, some two-thirds of migrant workers are employed by large farms with gross receipts of more than $2 million annually.

In addition to the announcement by the Mexican government that it was calling a temporary halt to workers coming  to Canada, there are reports that the Mexican National Human Rights Commission has launched an investigation into the deaths of the two workers and the conditions faced by Mexican migrant agricultural workers in Ontario. It will also investigate alleged lack of attention by Mexican consular authorities to these workers, which the Commission said could constitute human rights violations.


1. Statistics Canada reports that, "Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) are critical to the agriculture sector and have been steadily increasing in Canada over the past twenty years.  In 2018, there were nearly 55,000 jobs filled by temporary foreign workers in Canada's agriculture industry and these accounted for 20 per cent of total employment in the primary agriculture sector.  Although temporary foreign workers in 2018 came from nearly 100 countries, the majority came from Mexico (51 per cent); Guatemala (20 per cent) and Jamaica (18 per cent)."

(With files from Globe and Mail, LatinUs, EFE)

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National Farmers Union-Ontario Issues Statement

On May 30, Bonifacio Eugenio Romero, a 31-year-old Mexican migrant farm worker, died of COVID-19. He lost his life to feed us and to provide for his family back home.

The National Farmers Union [1] is devastated by the tragic death of Bonifacio Eugenio Romero. We extend our deepest condolences to his family, friends, and to all the essential agricultural workers who are risking their health and safety to bring food to Canadian tables every day.

More than 400 migrant farm workers have tested positive with COVID-19 in mass outbreaks across Southern Ontario. It is spreading among migrant workers due to overcrowded, unsanitary housing and unsafe working conditions, and/or a failure to quickly identify and isolate infected workers.

The National Farmers Union-Ontario (NFU-O) is concerned that not all farmers are complying with government regulations regarding the pandemic. We worry that government inspections of farms and migrant worker accommodations are being conducted remotely and will not be effective in the absence of surprise on-site inspections for verification. We are troubled that some migrant workers are not receiving adequate and ongoing information on health and safety protocols in the language of their choice.

Migrant farm workers are contracting the virus in the local community. They arrive in Canada in good health and are compliant with the 14-day quarantine protocol. Uncoordinated quarantine measures are unfairly stigmatizing these workers, despite the fact that they are not the source of the outbreaks. The NFU is against discriminatory exclusionary measures that target migrant workers, such as identification cards and restricted and prohibited movement on and off of the farm. We find the ongoing and systemic racism migrant farm workers experience abhorrent, including reports that they are being denied entry into local grocery stores. Migrant workers deserve to live and work in safety and dignity.

The NFU has a long-standing position in support of migrant workers. The NFU has joined calls for regulatory changes so that migrant workers can change jobs without threat of deportation, have full access to health care and other employee benefits, and be granted permanent resident status. We stand in solidarity with the Migrant Rights Network and Justicia for Migrant Workers in their outrage over the death of Bonifacio Eugenio Romero and their efforts to improve migrant workers' housing, working, and status conditions.


1. The National Farmers Union is a direct-membership organization made up of Canadian farm families who share common goals. One of its goals "is to work together to achieve agricultural policies which will "ensure dignity and security of income for farm families while enhancing the land for future generations." It is organized on a regional basis. Each Region holds an annual convention where regional officers are elected and resolutions brought forward by members of the region are debated. Resolutions that are passed at the regional level are then debated and voted on at the annual National Convention. One board member from each of its regions serves as the Regional Coordinator.

It is committed to:

- ensuring family farms are the primary unit of food production;
- promoting environmentally-safe farming practices;
- giving farm women equal voice in shaping farm policy;
- working for fair food prices for both farmers and consumers;
- involving, educating and empowering rural youth for a better future;
- building healthy, vibrant rural communities;
- ensuring an adequate supply of safe, nutritious food for Canadians.
- solidarity with family farmers internationally

It states that it "is unique among farm organizations in working for people's interests against corporate control of our food system."

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Coronavirus Spreads to Temporary Foreign Agricultural Workers in Quebec

On Thursday, June 11, the media reported a COVID-19 outbreak at Vegpro International[1], located in the town of Sherrington, in southwestern Quebec's Montérégie administrative region.

Vegpro International is one of the largest produce growers in North America, which sells ready-to-eat and pre-washed produce such as lettuce under the trademark Fresh Attitude.

The first case of COVID-19 was confirmed on May 28, after a Guatemalan worker presented symptoms.

Temporary foreign workers on the farm share cramped quarters and many common areas and the virus has quickly spread. A spokesperson for the Integrated Health and Social Services Centre (CISSS) for the Montrégie-Centre region reported that out of a total of 23 workers who have tested positive for the virus, 18 are temporary foreign workers.

The outbreak has caused a slowdown in the operations of the company, which is anticipating the arrival of other Mexican workers, who will be placed in quarantine upon arrival. Quebec Associate Deputy Minister of Health and Public Health Director, Dr. Horacio Arruda, has told the press that the pandemic protocols in place to make sure temporary workers arrive in Quebec in good health and stay that way, are to "get special attention in the coming days."

Quebec's Union of Agricultural Producers (UPA) has said that this year Quebec has only received half of the temporary foreign workers it was expecting. For example, just over 5,000 temporary foreign workers from Guatemala and Mexico have arrived thus far, out of an expected 12,660. By June 11, based on the original planning forecast, there would have been close to 10,000 foreign agricultural workers in Quebec.


1. Vegpro International, which was founded in 1998, claims to be the largest vegetable producer in Canada. It distributes its produce across Canada as well as in the northeastern United States. Specialized in the washing and packaging of baby lettuces, Vegpro also sells a wide range of vegetables grown on its land and has fields in Quebec and Florida. Its retailers include the major food distribution chains and such giants as Walmart, Sobeys, Costco, Metro, IGA, Maxi, Loblaws, Foodland and Provigo.

(With files from Radio-Canada, Vegpro International and the Montreal Gazette)

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Situation of Frontline Workers During Pandemic

Ontario Paramedics' Urgent Need for
Adequate Protective Equipment

Workers' Forum: What are the main concerns of paramedics at this time?

Jason Fraser: Our concerns, I think, are very similar across Canada. We are facing the same challenges -- the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Our Chief Medical Officer of Health in Ontario has downgraded what we consider to be the standard of using a N95 mask, which is like the gold standard. They have downgraded it, saying that wearing a surgical mask is sufficient to fight COVID-19 and protect the workers from contracting the virus.

We have taken the position that surgical masks are not appropriate. It should be an N95. The PPE issue, I would say, is very similar to what is going on across the country and worldwide. We need to be cautious on how much PPE we are wearing or using on calls. Different paramedic services in Ontario are taking different approaches. Some services have the approach that only one paramedic needs to put on their PPE and can manage the call as a single provider, while the other paramedic just stays at 2 meters back to assist, in order to conserve the PPE and make it last longer. The orders for equipment are not coming in as quickly as we would like to see them coming in, that is for sure. I have not heard of anybody running out of things as of yet, but definitely services have reached critical levels and we have had to rely on the province to supply PPE. Months ago the province was continuously saying that they had an adequate supply of PPE but there are shortages and this is creating a difficult situation for the workers.

In our opinion the reason that the Chief Medical Officer of health in Ontario downgraded from N95 to surgical masks is solely based on the lack of available PPE. If we look back to 2003, when SARS was happening, we wore N95 masks, gloves and gowns on every call. It did not matter what the nature of that call was. That was the standard, the best available protection.

When we fast forward 17 years to COVID-19 and the lack of available resources for PPE supplies, it is now all of a sudden downgraded to surgical masks. It just does not make sense. We do not want a bare bone or minimal standard. We want to have the best available to us and the best is N95. We should not be in the position of having to make decisions based on what crucial equipment we have available to us. That equipment should be readily available. The provincial government had plenty of time to prepare for this. There were plenty of indicators back in late December, early January, that the virus was heading our way, that Canada, including Ontario, was not going to avoid the virus coming here. There was adequate time for them to prepare and get a stockpile of N95 masks and gowns to ensure that every front line worker was protected. They failed to do that. They failed to properly plan. We are playing catch up and we have never really been able to catch up. We should never be in that position. The equipment should be there and every worker should be protected.

WF: Is your volume of calls going up now that more places are opening in Ontario and confinement restrictions are getting loosened?

JF: Back at the end of March, early April, call volume had dropped. People were cautious about having to go to the hospital or use the 911 system if it was not urgent to use it. They listened to the advice from the Province to stay home and only go out for essential things. Call volume has started to creep back up again in the last couple of weeks, which is going to put another strain on us, making the need still more urgent to get proper PPE. The one thing that might actually have saved us in our PPE situation was that the call volume was down. If our call volume had stayed at the level it was pre-COVID-19 we would have been in big trouble. That can still happen as our call volumes go up as more places are opening up and people are doing different types of things. That can vary according to what type of calls we are going to see, like more motor vehicle collisions. If our PPE supplies are not coming in we may get into a very difficult situation at some point. That is without talking about having a second wave, like we are hearing about.

WF: Do you want to say something in conclusion?

JF: We need to remain diligent as things in the province start to loosen up. We need to keep in mind that the virus is still active. We need to continue wearing our PPE on calls. Paramedics are going into many different places -- businesses, homes, long term care facilities, and in and out of hospitals on a regular basis. We do not want paramedics to be transporters of the virus in those facilities. The view should be that everybody is positive until proven otherwise and be protected accordingly.

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Quebec Health Care Unions Demand Preparations
to Face Possible Second Wave

There are serious concerns among workers and people at this time about a possible second wave of COVID-19 in the coming months. Concerns are high because terrible tragedies are still happening in what is called the first wave, especially in the health care system which has been weakened by over thirty years of anti-social offensive by successive governments in the service of narrow private interests. In Quebec, the number of deaths from COVID-19 has reached 5,298 as of June 17, with over 4,700 of them either in CHSLDs (Residential and long-term care centres -- 3,642), seniors' residences or in what  are called  intermediate resources (residences such as group homes, or supervised apartments for people experiencing a loss of independence and needing help with their daily tasks). Another source of major concern is the view put forward by the ruling circles that now is the time to "reopen Quebec" by striking a balance between the "economy" and the health and safety of workers and people. This is a false and self-serving equation to justify the continued pay-the-rich economy for which the health and the safety of the people is being sacrificed.

On June 8, Quebec health care unions issued a press release entitled "Better preparations needed in the health and social services system for the 2nd wave." The health care unions are the Health and Social Services' Workers' Union-CSN, the Interprofessional Health Care Federation of Quebec, the Alliance of Professional and Technical Health and Social Services Staff, the Quebec section of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Quebec Health Federation, the Quebec Union of Service Employees-FTQ and the Federation of Professionals (FP-CSN).

The unions point out that "The first phase of the COVID-19 crisis was a failure; aside from claiming the lives of six workers in the health and social services system, it highlighted prevention shortcomings in workplaces, as witnessed by the 5,000 workers who were infected."

They state that this long-standing situation must be rectified in anticipation of the second wave of COVID-19. They identify as one of the most significant problems the lack of prevention of workplace illness and injury, which, in the health care sector, is directly related to the health and safety of patients and residents in long term care homes. This problem has reached new proportions in the conditions of the pandemic, they say.

The unions also state that right from the start of the pandemic, the recommendations of the Quebec National Institute for Public Health were guided by the low inventories of personal protective equipment (PPE). They believe that health directives varied according to available inventory, and say that the Quebec government has refused to give the workers accurate information on inventories of available PPE, and that several residences and CHSLDs were short of supplies right from the beginning.

They also point out that the increasing mobility demands arising from the restructuring of health care which forces workers to move between many sites in a huge geographical area, the use of contract labour hired through private placement agencies, and wages and working conditions that force workers in long-term care homes to work in several long-term care facilities to make a living, all have contributed to the conditions that foster the spread of COVID-19. In addition to adequate equipment, they say, the stability of health care teams must be a priority.

The unions are presenting the following demands which they say are needed to rectify the situation and adequately prepare for a second wave of COVID-19.

"Reliable data is needed on the number of employees affected per institution, mission, department, activity centre and job title to better plan the available resources.

"An accurate picture is needed of the status of protective personal equipment (PPE) inventories to ensure an adequate supply and the highest level of protection for personnel in the system.

"Means must be provided to do prevention in the field to limit the number of infections.

"The four prevention mechanisms spelled out in the Act respecting occupational health and safety must be implemented in full, on an urgent basis and in all of the institutions in the system, starting with the identification of a prevention representative. This should be followed by the implementation of prevention programs, health programs and health and safety committees."

The current Act respecting occupational health and safety was passed in 1979. Among other things, it arbitrarily divided the sectors of the economy into 'priority' and 'non-priority' sectors in terms of health and safety hazards and need for health and safety measures. It set four mechanisms for the prevention of work-related injuries and diseases which are: the prevention representative, the prevention program, the health program, and the joint health and safety committees. The specifics of how this applies depends on the sector workers are part of. It is estimated that only about 11 per cent of Quebec workplaces are currently covered by these mechanisms. Even the construction sector, which is the deadliest sector in term of workplace casualties and is considered by the Act as a priority sector, is not fully covered by the mechanisms because of the long-standing opposition from the construction companies and the refusal of the Quebec government to even implement what is in its own legislation.

The unions consider that the immediate appointment, by the workers in all sectors and work places, of a full-time prevention representative selected from among their peers, is of first-rate importance. The only job of the prevention representative would be to make sure that working conditions are safe and healthy. This would contribute to improve the situation and adequately prepare for what lies ahead.

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