On August 17, Omar Graham tragically became the sixth Jamaican migrant worker over the past decade to die from an Ontario farm-related accident.
Graham, a native of Manchester, Jamaica, was fatally injured while working for an agriculture operation near Paris, Ontario. He was driving a pick-up truck towing a trailer packed with tobacco. Preliminary reports indicate the he was ejected from the pick-up truck when the rig he was hauling flipped off the road.
"We are saddened by Omar Graham's tragic death and extend our condolences to his family and community," said Wayne Hanley, the national president of UFCW Canada. For more than two decades, UFCW Canada has led the campaign for improved safety, workplace and labour rights for agriculture workers in Canada.
"Was the truck in good repair? Was the trailer overloaded? The investigation will have to answer those questions," says Hanley. "What we do know for certain is that another farm worker has died, while the government stands by with no regulations or inspection system dealing with farm worker transportation."
"It is urgent the government take action before more farm workers are injured or killed."
More than 6,000 Jamaican migrant agricultural workers come to Canada each season under federally administered temporary worker programs. In 2002, Ned Pert, a 39-year-old Jamaican migrant worker at an Ontario tobacco farm, was killed when a tobacco bin collapsed on him. In 2005, William Bell and Desmond McNeil were killed near Delhi, Ontario when a car struck them while they were bicycling to the farm they worked at. And just a year ago, two Jamaican migrant workers at an Ayton, Ontario farm died from exposure to toxic fumes while cleaning out a vat.
To date, no charges have been laid in that accident, and the Ontario Ministry of Labour continues to stonewall on releasing the findings of its investigation into the Ayton fatalities.
"The dangers and risks to farm workers should not be hushed up," says Hanley, the leader of Canada's largest private-sector union, which in association with the Agriculture Workers Alliance (AWA) operates ten agriculture worker support centres across Canada.
"Migrant workers make the sacrifice of leaving home to feed their families and our families. That sacrifice should not include being the victims of preventable accidents."