In the News June 12
Court Ruling in Death of Migrant Farm Worker in Ontario
Uphold the Rights of Migrant Workers!
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Following the death of Mexican farmworker Juan Lopez Chaparro during a COVID-19 outbreak on the Scotlynn Growers farm in Norfolk County in May of 2020, one of his co-workers publicly denounced the failure of the employer to protect its workers. After refusing to work under unsafe conditions and speaking about the situation to the Toronto Star, Luis Gabriel Flores was fired.
With the support of advocacy organizations and Parkdale Community Legal Services, Flores took his case to the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB). In November 2021, the Board ruled that the company had violated the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which makes it illegal for employers to penalize, dismiss, discipline, suspend or threaten to take any of these actions against a worker who has refused unsafe work.
The board said in its ruling, “The power imbalance between the employer and Mr. Flores, as a migrant worker who does not speak English and relies on the employer for wages, shelter and transportation, should have been more carefully managed since a reprisal can strike a far deeper wound than might otherwise occur in the traditional employment relationship.”
“Mr. Flores had been dismissed after being vocal about the working conditions and the risks associated with COVID-19. After more than 190 workers had been infected (including Mr. Flores) and one co-worker who succumbed to the virus, Mr. Flores could not reasonably be expected to return to the workplace and continue living in the bunkhouse without assurances that sufficient health measures had been taken to specifically address the risks of COVID-19. There is no evidence that the employer had taken any steps to improve the working or living conditions or address the issues raised by Mr. Flores,” the OLRB added.
Scotlynn was ordered to pay Mr. Flores $20,000 in lost wages and $5,000 for distress.
Following his refusal to work at Scotlynn, Mr. Flores was granted a one-time vulnerable worker open work permit but was unable to get it renewed and was forced to return to Mexico.
It cannot be suggested that justice has been done by the ruling of the Ontario Labour Relations Board when at the end of the day Mr. Flores has lost his employment in Canada and nothing has been done to improve the working and living conditions of the migrant farm workers brought to Canada to work for Scotlynn and other employers.
The racist mistreatment of migrant farm workers from Mexico and the Caribbean, facilitated by the federal government through various programs for migrant workers and the labour laws of provincial governments, all point to the immediate need to abolish all immigration policies that deny equal rights and full status for all workers.
Workers’ Forum, posted June 13, 2022.