Toronto, ON - February 4, 2013 - A year ago, on February 6, 2012, a horrific collision near Hampstead, Ontario killed ten migrant agriculture workers being transported in a van, as well as the Ontario driver of a flatbed truck. Three other migrant workers who were in the van continue to struggle with shattering injuries.
"It is a tragedy waiting to happen again," says Wayne Hanley, the national president of UFCW Canada (United Food and Commercial Workers union). Last February, Hanley and the union called on the Chief Coroner for Ontario to hold an inquiry into the tragedy including how the total lack of regulations governing the transport of agriculture workers may have contributed to it.
"The coroner acknowledged the call for the inquest but that was it. A year later, nothing has happened. Why? The role of an inquest is to make recommendations to prevent such future tragedies. An inquiry would confirm that right now in Ontario, transporting cattle is more strictly regulated than transporting farm workers," said the leader of Canada's largest-private-sector union.
For more than two decades, UFCW Canada has led a national campaign for improved safety, workplace, and labour rights for agriculture workers. In association with the Agriculture Workers Alliance (AWA), UFCW Canada operates ten agriculture worker support centres across the country; four of them in Ontario.
"Workers are in jeopardy every day. They tell us of being carted around in the back of cube vans, open flat bed pickups, and even on top of food crates loaded behind a tractor. The Ontario government must not wait for another tragedy before it acts. A coroner's inquest into Hampstead is critical, but in the meantime, the government could move tomorrow under the Health and Safety Act to regulate and enforce safe transportation of farm workers," said the UFCW Canada national president.
"A year has passed since Hampstead. There is no excuse for further delay."
In the wake of the Hampstead tragedy, UFCW Canada and the AWA established the Migrant Workers Family Support Fund to immediately assist the families of the 14 workers who were injured and killed. With the assistance of individuals, community organizations, churches and unions, the fund raised over $226,000, of which 100% was divided and distributed to the families.