Coronavirus: Canada’s migrant farm workers face deadly COVID-19 outbreaks and suspected ill-treatment

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Lisa Bibb in tears as she thinks of her migrant staff as she stands in the middle of dozens of rows of apples – something her usual Mexican laborers would tend to do right now if they were on her farm.

Over the past two years, she and her family, who run Hy-Hope Farm in Durham Region, have hired four to six farmers from out of the country through Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program. But because of the coronavirus pandemic, they made the decision to leave the workers – its apple specialists – at home in Mexico this year.

Raul Gonzales, a temporary worker from Mexico, holds apples he helped grow at Hy-Hope Farm in Ashburn, Ontario, in 2018.


Lisa Bibb / Ferme Hy-Hope


“We feel a little guilty because we understand that they are counting on us to provide for their families,” Bibb says, eyes red with tears. “It was kind of … tug of war because, you know, at the same time, maybe they were safe at home, but maybe they didn’t have the funds they needed to spend it. ‘year.

Overall, tens of thousands of seasonal migrant workers come to Canada every summer. In 2019, the federal government announced that it had approved 46,707 positions under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program.

About 40 percent of agricultural workers work on farms in Ontario, 32 percent in Quebec, 18 percent in British Columbia and about 3 percent in Nova Scotia, according to figures released in July by Employment and Social Development Canada.

It was not immediately clear how many farms have canceled their seasonal workers in 2020 like Bibb, but a number of farm owners have decided to stick with the program amid the pandemic and now many migrant workers are facing to a seizure.

In Ontario alone, more than 1,300 foreign workers on farms contracted the novel coronavirus over the summer, and three people have died in epidemics, according to advocacy group Justice for Migrant Workers.










Ontario migrant worker demands more protection from federal government during COVID-19 pandemic


Ontario migrant worker demands more protection from federal government during COVID-19 pandemic

After hearing about outbreaks and deaths among temporary foreign farm workers in the province, she said, “We couldn’t all bear the thought of knowing if this was happening to someone who has children and a wife in her hands. home, and they come. here for us.

Justice for Migrant Workers alleges that many migrants who are in Canada this year have been subjected to ill-treatment, including being fed an insufficient amount of quarantined meals and staying in cramped bunk beds separated by pieces of cardboard – a space in which workers would sleep too close to each other. to physically remove and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In contrast, Bibb workers stay in an on-site cabin with an open-plan kitchen, living room, and several beds that are far enough apart that these allow employees to physically get away from each other.

This house is where his grandparents lived when they worked on the farm in Ashburn, Ontario.

The photo on the left is a still from a video showing bunk beds where migrant workers are said to sleep at Double Diamond Farms, a farm in southwestern Ontario, and on the right, a photo of a bed in which a temporary foreign worker would sleep at Hy-Hope Durham Region farm.

The photo on the left is a still from a video showing bunk beds where migrant workers are said to sleep at Double Diamond Farms, a farm in southwestern Ontario, and on the right, a photo of a bed in which a temporary foreign worker would sleep at Hy-Hope Farm in Durham Region.


Justice for migrant workers / YouTube


Bibb says of the workers: “We hope we treat them really well… Anyone who works on our farm, you just become part of the family.

Justice for Migrant Workers says seasonal migrant workers on Canadian farms also suffer from hunger. A slice of shriveled pepperoni pizza along with a small ball of plain rice, steamed vegetables and a small piece of chicken are two of the meals pictured in the photos that the advocacy group said were taken in various hotels where migrants have been quarantined.

“We should all be … outraged that so many people are falling through the cracks during the pandemic,” said Chris Ramsaroop, an organizer for the rights organization. “The people who grow our food are hungry.

“The government, the employers … nobody lifted a finger.”

Two meals were reportedly served to migrant farm workers while they were quarantined in hotels after arriving in Canada this year.

Two meals were reportedly served to migrant farm workers while they were quarantined in hotels after arriving in Canada this year.


Chris Ramsaroop / Justice for migrant workers


In a statement to Global News, the Department of Employment and Social Development said the temporary foreign worker program conformity framework in place to protect temporary foreign workers from abuse. “

Read more:

Ontario migrant worker demands more protection from federal government amid COVID-19 pandemic

Ramsaroop says a migrant worker took video of the bunk beds that temporary foreign workers allegedly slept on a farm in Kingsville, Ont., A town in southwestern Ontario, an area where epidemics have occurred among agricultural workers.

Global News emailed and left a voicemail message at Double Diamond, the farm where the worker allegedly took the footage, but did not respond to our requests for comment.

Two temporary foreign workers, Erika Zavala and Jesús Molina, who arrived in Canada from Mexico, were kicked back from a farm in British Columbia after inviting two visitors – migrant worker rights advocates.

One of the lawyers said the workers had authorized the visit with their supervisor, but a few days after the visit they were fired on July 1.

Erika Zavala (left) and Jesús Molina take a photo together at Bylands, the BC farm that fired them in July for inviting two people to the property.  Bylands told Global News that this violated its policy regarding

Erika Zavala (left) and Jesús Molina take a photo together at Bylands, the BC farm that fired them in July for inviting two people to the property. Bylands tells Global News that this violated its policy regarding “visitor presence on site.”


Amy Cohen / Radical action with migrants in agriculture


“It was really sad because we were doing things right and doing a good job,” Molina said in Spanish from Guadalajara, Mexico, during a video call with Global News.

“But (the manager) made the decisions… I think it’s a personal decision. It wasn’t company policy or anything like that. He didn’t want to keep us there and he looked for an excuse.

Global News sent an email to Bylands, the Kelowna farm where Molina and Zavala worked, and the company said in a statement: “Bylands Nurseries terminated the employment of these people following multiple instances where they did not follow workplace policies. “

He continues: “The dismissal was due to multiple infractions, following orientation on workplace policies and warnings regarding leaving the premises and the presence of visitors on site.”

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In a follow-up email, Global asked the farm what exactly these policies were, but the farm has yet to respond.

“(The manager) never said that visitation was not allowed,” Molina said.

« The tricky part is that their workplaces are also their homes, ”says labor and human rights lawyer Susanna Quail, of the life situations of seasonal migrant workers in Canada. “There is a temptation for employers to say… “We can come and go from so far”. And this means that a migrant worker cannot leave his place of work but also his home.

“This would mean that a migrant worker does not have access to lawyers who could help them if they are victims of abuse or exploitation. This would mean that a migrant worker would not be able to go to a store and buy a mask if he is not given sufficient protective equipment in his job.

However, she said, « No employer is allowed to say to a worker, migrant worker or not… “You cannot leave your home. You cannot leave the workplace. You are being held hostage.

« Migrant workers have all the same rights as Canadian workers, except the right to permanent status in Canada.

Read more:

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Temporary foreign workers pushed the federal government to grant them this status, which they say will give them more rights and protections, including better access to health care.

In July, the Canadian government announced it would invest more than $ 50 million to protect temporary foreign workers.










Coronavirus: Trudeau announces $ 59 million investment to protect the health and safety of migrant workers


Coronavirus: Trudeau announces $ 59 million investment to protect the health and safety of migrant workers

This investment includes “strengthening the employer inspection regime” and improving “employee housing”.

Advocates say the government has yet to respond to the application for permanent resident status for temporary migrant farm workers in Canada.

Read more:

Coronavirus: Quebec farms face lost profits and rotten crops due to shortage of migrant workers

After canceling her seasonal team in Mexico, Bibb says she hired local students to do the farm work instead. They receive the same wages as migrant workers, but what is missing is the expertise of the Mexican team in growing apples.

The financial consequences of having to fill foreign worker positions “remain to be seen,” Bibb says.

She explains that being able to harvest and package produce for sale as efficiently as they usually do could be a potential problem for them, as some of their staff return to school in September.

This is where the Bibbs can feel the emptiness of their “family” the most in Mexico – migrant workers normally work on the farm from May to November. Bibb says she plans to bring them back next year.

“One hundred percent, I hope they come back.”

– With files from Mike De Souza



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