February 26, 2021 - No. 11

Vaccines for All Campaign

Uphold the Rights of Migrant and Undocumented Residents

Vaccines for All Campaign Launched
Migrants Rights Advocates Denounce Inadequate Ontario Farm Inspections
Migrant Rights Network Organizes We Feed You Campaign on Canadian Agriculture Day

Health and Safety for All
Support the Demand for Paid Sick Leave for All Workers

Vaccines for All Campaign

Uphold the Rights of Migrant and
Undocumented Residents

Anxiety and a great deal of acrimony have been created by governments, cartel parties and media across the country over vaccinations protocols and who gets vaccinated when. Because Canada's economy is not based on self-reliance and caters to global pharmaceutical oligopolies to receive vaccines to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada is way behind other countries in protecting its people. And, within this, the situation in which migrant workers, including undocumented workers, are facing discrimination and exclusion from vaccination programs is beyond unacceptable. Because of their designation by a racist state as people who can be mistreated and abused, thousands of people in Canada working in essential jobs but living in fear of deportation, are unable to access basic health care including vaccinations. They are even unable to walk safely in the streets for fear of being stopped by the police and deported.

The Migrant Rights Network issued a statement on February 24 on this matter entitled "Migrant Rights and Health Experts call for Safe and Dignified Access Without Fear to COVID-19 Vaccines for Migrant and Undocumented Residents."

The statement points out that one in 23 people in Canada don't have permanent resident status, including many workers in healthcare, cleaning, construction, delivery and agriculture, and that many migrants in Canada don't have health cards because they are undocumented or their work or study permits have expired due to government processing delays during the pandemic.

On the one hand workers are threatened by employers that they must be vaccinated and on the other hand workers live with the threat that if their personal information is shared with federal immigration enforcement they will be detained and deported.

It is unconscionable that in a crisis that impacts everyone racist division of the people into categories designed to permit discrimination and denial of basic human rights to some is still presented by the elite and their governments as modern and humane. The only solution is the immediate recognition of the legitimacy of all human beings in Canada, providing vaccinations to all without question, and the granting of permanent resident status to all migrant workers and students who are here and want to stay.

Excerpts of the statement follow:

"The Migrant Rights Network along with leading doctors, health policy experts, and labour leaders, is calling for immediate action to ensure that all migrant and undocumented residents of Canada are able to be vaccinated. A letter signed by 270 organizations outlines specific measures that must be implemented in order to make government assurances about universal vaccine access a reality. For the COVID vaccine to be accessible to migrants in a safe and non-coercive manner, the following must be implemented:

- Vaccination must be provided free of charge;

- Vaccination must not require a health card or health coverage;

- Names, addresses or other identifying information should not be required for vaccination because migrant and undocumented people are fearful of sharing this information;

- No ID information should be shared with federal immigration enforcement;

- Vaccine must be accessible (available in rural communities, to those who don't speak English or French, don't have access to a computer, telephone, etc);

- COVID-19 vaccination should not be coercive or mandatory. To protect against this, anti-reprisal protections and permanent resident status must be ensured for migrants that speak up about workplace issues;

- Vaccine providers must be trained so that they don't turn away people who don't have health coverage or are fearful of sharing their ID;

- Anti-racist public education is necessary to address vaccine hesitancy. Migrants have well-founded reasons to distrust medical systems because of histories of violence and coercion;

- Universal healthcare for all; and

- Full and permanent immigration status for all."

(Photos: WF, NOII Halifax)

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Vaccines for All Campaign Launched

The Migrant Rights Network (MRN) held a press conference on February 24 to launch its Vaccines For All national campaign. The aim of the campaign is to "ensure full access to the COVID-19 vaccine to all migrants regardless of immigration status" in a safe and equitable way.

The press conference featured five speakers. Lily, a frontline care worker from the Caribbean shared her experience of coming to Canada to work as a live-in caregiver, leaving her three children behind. Her work permit expired before she was able to find stable work to fulfill the requirements for permanent status. She pointed out that she, like others of her peers without status, is unable to get vaccinated because she has no health card. She stated that undocumented workers live in constant fear and cannot access basic rights to healthcare, housing, social services and legal rights, and now to the vaccine. She highlighted that undocumented workers are part of Canadian society, contribute to it and must be protected.

Dr. Danyaal Raza, a member of Canadian Doctors for Medicare and a physician at St. Michael's Hospital in downtown Toronto called on governments to take practical action to ensure that all people without status are vaccinated as a matter of right and part of the efforts to bring the pandemic under control. He also stated that his organization supports the fight for all migrants to have permanent status to end their criminalization and enable them to live with dignity. Dr. Raza said he also opposed the concept of "earned status" such as the Quebec government has implemented to "reward" some migrants and refugees for doing "essential" frontline work, pointing out that status and healthcare are a matter of basic rights.

Pauline Worsfold, a nurse, and Chair of the Canadian Health Coalition and Secretary Treasurer of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions said that her organizations support the Vaccines for All campaign. She noted that all migrant workers have to be part of the vaccine rollout and that the principles of the Canada Health Act of universal, accessible and comprehensive health care must be upheld so that everyone can get the vaccine regardless of their status.

Byron Cruz of Sanctuary Health in Vancouver and the BC Federation of Labour highlighted the role of migrant workers on the front lines doing "essential" work in Canada, many of whom have to wait for three months after arriving in Canada to access health care services. Thousands of migrant workers have become infected and three migrant agricultural workers have died in Ontario as a consequence of not having protection and medical assistance in a timely fashion, he noted. He highlighted that the BC Federation of Labour has been working with the provincial government to find ways and means to vaccinate all migrant workers including those without status.

Samira, a young worker and a member of Solidarity Across Borders, has been living in Montreal without status for eight years. After working a number of low-paying jobs she was forced to quit in order to look after her mother. She said that she was afraid of leaving her dwelling now for fear of being questioned by police and the curfew now imposed in Quebec has made life even more stressful. She called for an end to the criminalization of migrant workers and for status for all.

On behalf of MRN, Syed Hussan, the moderator of the press conference, called on governments at all levels to work with health authorities and migrant rights organizations to take immediate action to ensure that all migrant workers including those without status have access to free COVID-19 vaccines and underscored the importance of fighting for full and equal status for all migrant workers. He called on everyone to join the campaign, to sign the MRN's Vaccines for All petition here, and to get others involved.

(Photos: MRN)

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Migrants Rights Advocates Denounce
Inadequate Ontario Farm Inspections

Media reports that in the first two weeks of a recent provincial inspection blitz of farms in southwestern Ontario one in five farms were issued non-compliance orders for COVID-19 safety measures. Ontario Ministry of Labour inspectors had conducted 31 field visits in the western region, most in Windsor and Essex County, the area which had the highest concentration of COVID-19 cases in 2020.

The federal government is responsible for the living conditions of migrant farm workers and provincial governments have responsibility for overseeing working conditions on farms. Both the federal and provincial governments follow the imperialist outlook that workers are commodities, not people with rights. Since the beginning of the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) in the late sixties, the government has brought thousands of Caribbean and Mexican workers to Canada every year to meet the needs of agri-business. These workers live in conditions of servitude, tied to one employer and denied the right to collectively organize in defence of their rights, under threat of being returned to their home country if they speak out. Last year 20,500 temporary foreign agricultural workers came to Ontario. More than 1,780 contracted COVID-19 and three died.

The inspections did not include the bunkhouses where workers live, only working areas. Six of the 31 locations inspected were issued COVID-19 non-compliance orders, most related to physical distancing and mask protocols.

Justice 4 Migrant Workers (J4MW) denounced the failure of the government to take any measures to change the living and working conditions of migrant farm workers that created the conditions for the spread of COVID-19 amongst workers on Ontario farms and said that it makes no sense to have an inspection blitz prior to the workers' arrival. The J4MW spokesperson, Chris Ramsaroop, also pointed out that employers are given advance notice of inspections and that the presence of translators from the Mexican consulate at the inspections does nothing to support the workers. The government says that the translators are there to "ensure workers are heard during the inspections," but J4MW points out that this actually increases the likelihood of reprisal against workers who speak out, as Mexican government officials have the power to deny approval to individuals who apply to Canada's temporary foreign worker program.

Justice 4 Migrant Workers has been calling for the province to enact immediate paid sick leave, expanded health and safety regulations for the agriculture industry, guarantee protection for workers who speak out about unsafe conditions, and include worker housing under the Ontario Health and Safety Act. Workers often live in crowded conditions which make it difficult to control the spread of infectious diseases.

Above all, the need is for permanent resident status for all workers, a recognition that migrant workers are part of the Canadian working class and a guarantee of their right to safe and healthy working and living conditions when they are in Canada and a path to citizenship for workers and their families.

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Migrant Rights Network Organizes We Feed You Campaign on Canadian Agriculture Day

One of the images posted on twitter by Migrant Rights Network for Canadian Agriculture Day.

Every year since 2016 on February 23 the Canadian agri-business monopolies and Canadian federal and provincial governments organize Canadian Agriculture Day to celebrate "Canadian agriculture and food and the people who produce it."

This year the Migrant Workers' Network organized an online campaign to highlight the indispensable work that migrant farmworkers do to plant, tend and harvest food. The aim of the campaign was to highlight the demand for Canada to recognize these workers' right to status. Many have been coming to Canada for decades, tied to one employer and separated from their home communities and families for long periods.

Migrant Rights Network called on everyone to use the official hash tag #CdnAgDay to popularize the slogan: We Feed You and post photographs to "reveal the truth about who feeds us and join in migrant farm workers' fight for equal rights and justice." Migrant workers and their allies from Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean responded, posting photographs highlighting the struggle for migrant workers' rights, including permanent status and to highlight the important work that they do in Canada's farms.

(Source: Migrant Rights Network)

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Health and Safety for All

Support the Demand for Paid Sick Leave
for All Workers

Across Canada, unions, workers, public health officials, medical associations and many other organizations and individuals are demanding urgent action to provide paid sick leave to all workers. As public health authorities warn of the continuing dangers of COVID-19 and the possibility of a third wave and call for vigilance to curb the spread, the need for paid sick leave has become even more urgent. The Decent Work and Health Network, a network of health providers based in Ontario who advocate for better health by addressing employment conditions, assesses that 58 per cent of workers in Canada -- and over 70 per cent of workers making less than $25,000 -- have no access whatsoever to paid sick days. It recommends that all provincial, territorial, and federal jurisdictions must update their employment standards to require employers to provide at least seven days of paid emergency leave on a permanent basis and require employers to provide an additional 14 days of paid emergency leave during public health emergencies.

There have been and continue to be outbreaks in workplaces, including many food processing plants, across the country. Since the outset of the pandemic public health officials have stressed the importance of workers not reporting to work if they are sick, even with mild symptoms. Compliance with this directive is extremely difficult for workers in predominantly low paid non-union jobs, but impacts all workers without paid sick leave and workers who may have used up their sick leave and would receive no pay should they stay home with COVID-19 symptoms.

The ruling elite demand compliance with public health orders by individual workers and even, in the case of outbreaks in workplaces, go so far as to blame the workers and threaten them with fines if their life circumstances -- overcrowded housing, holding two or more jobs to make ends meet, carpooling -- put them in danger, but take no responsibility for protecting society by ensuring that workers have the wherewithal to comply. While blaming the workers for, among other things, not staying home when they are sick, employers offer rewards for improved production, including bonuses for "perfect attendance." Government officials, including public health care officials, say the onus is on individuals to follow public health orders but do nothing to force employers to make that possible, nor provide the financial and social supports that workers need.

The federal government introduced the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) in October 2020 when the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) ended. The benefit is available to workers who stay home with COVID-19 symptoms, but not unless they lose over 50 per cent of their work in a week. It pays $450 after taxes per week for up to four weeks, which is less than a full-time minimum-wage job does in most provinces. It doesn't provide immediate accessible paid sick leave. Workers have to apply for the benefit, like Employment Insurance, and can wait weeks to be paid. The CRSB also excludes some essential workers, such as migrant workers, who may not have the social insurance number required to access it. This is not a benefit that meets the needs of workers who depend on a regular paycheque to provide the day to day necessities of life and cannot afford to miss work if it results in an interruption of earnings.

London West NDP MPP Peggy Sattler presented Bill 239, the Stay Home If You Are Sick Act, 2020 to the Ontario legislature on December 8 and on February 16 requested unanimous consent of the legislature for the bill, which was denied. The Bill was then debated at second reading in the legislature on February 25. Bill 239 would amend the Employment Standards Act to provide for seven days of paid leave and three days of unpaid leave in a calendar year as "personal emergency leave," replacing the current provisions dealing with sick leave, family responsibility leave and bereavement leave. It would amend the section of the Act which provides for unpaid leave related to declared emergencies and infectious diseases emergencies, making the first 14 days of leave in a calendar year paid leave. Members of the Provincial Parliament are scheduled to vote on Bill 239 on March 1. Supporters of the bill are asking everyone to call and send e-mails to Conservative MPPs and to the Premier and Cabinet Ministers to demand that the legislation be passed.

Premier Doug Ford contemptuously dismissed the growing demand for legislative action to guarantee that workers can take time off when they are sick without loss of income by saying that it would be a "waste of tax-payers' money" and that it would duplicate the federal CRSB. He says that the federal CRSB is enough and that Ontario’s adoption of legislation mandating paid sick leave would be "double dipping" for taxpayers. The reality of life for workers who live paycheque to paycheque is of no concern to Premier Ford.

Canada has a modern socialized economy in which the collective work of workers across all industries and the service sector produce everything. Sick leave without loss of income belongs to workers by right and governments have a social responsibility to guarantee that right through legislation and enforcement.

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