The Migrant Rights Network – Canada’s migrant alliance – calls on the federal government to immediately require employers of migrant workers to provide adequate health and safety protections and income to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. Already, 75 workers – 63 of them migrant farmworkers – in Kelowna, BC, have been infected as a direct result of substandard housing and working conditions. Tens of thousands of workers are expected to arrive in Canada in the coming days. The federal government has created ‘guidelines’ for employers which have not been made public, and no monitoring and enforcement mechanism has been created. The Migrant Rights Network has sent a detailed letter to the federal government outlining necessary changes and requesting consultation in order to create regulations that ensure worker rights and safety.

“Unsafe housing and lack of labour and immigration rights has put migrant farm workers at immense risk,” says Byron Cruz from Sanctuary Health in Vancouver. “Already workers in Kelowna have become infected because of lack of enforceable quarantine requirements. We are worried about the lack of plans from the relevant health authorities to provide adequate access to healthcare for migrant workers. Currently, Sanctuary Health is supporting workers who are in quarantine on several farms. Workers have been abandoned by employers and are relying on the support of community groups for food. We demand an immediate audit of the measures taken by farms, and that workers have input on establishing appropriate quarantine requirements that uphold migrant dignity.”

“In order to avert a human rights crisis, we need swift action to ensure employers are providing adequate quarantine measures – this includes a monitoring and enforcement unit, real penalties for violating standards, and a mechanism for workers to safely file complaints,” added Syed Hussan, Executive Director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change. “This crisis has made it urgently clear that employer and government negligence to ensure decent housing and working conditions must end. We need national housing standards for migrant workers, and permanent resident status for all migrants, refugees and undocumented people now. We cannot risk having tiered access to health and income supports for people on the basis of immigration status. In a public health crisis, we cannot protect anyone if we do not protect everyone.”

Download the full letter here.

Ensuring Migrant Worker Safety During Quarantine Includes:

  • Enforceable requirements on employers, and a monitoring and enforcement unit to ensure these requirements are met before workers arrive.

  • Employers must be required to enable self-isolation and quarantining, provide healthcare information in a worker’s language of choice, and connect workers to local public health services. Employers must ensure adequate housing, hygiene products and meals for workers during their quarantine period without deductions. Workers must be paid during quarantine, and income supports provided for workers who haven’t arrived or arrived late.

  • These requirements must apply from the moment workers depart their home countries, throughout their travel to Canada, and through travel from airports to workplaces. If workers are housed in hotels, these requirements must extend to travel from hotels to workplaces.

  • A 24-hour accessible telephone hotline must be established for workers to confidentially and anonymously make complaints about employer non-compliance in their own languages, or by third parties such as migrant worker support organizations.

  • The enforcement division must do swift, unannounced inspections on employers where complaints have been made, in coordination with local public health officials.

  • All health assessments and follow-up support must be done by public health officials.

  • Healthcare must be guaranteed in all provinces, without the need for a health card, through emergency changes to the Interim Federal Health program or expanded provincial health transfers.

  • These requirements must be made available to workers and worker rights organizations in advance of workers travelling to Canada and at the port of entry, with information on how workers can assert their rights and make anonymous complaints, available in appropriate languages.