Politics Blog: Ontario’s COVID-19 agriculture strategy snubs farm workers

Toronto – November 28, 2020 – The Ontario government’s recently released Prevention, Control, and Outbreak Support Strategy for COVID-19 in Ontario's Farm Workers is destined to fail in protecting migrant farm workers from the coronavirus in part because the government neglected to consult with migrant workers before creating the strategy.

While some aspects of the strategy represent a step in the right direction, the absence of input from migrant agriculture workers means that the plan’s protections are unlikely to be implemented at farming operations across Ontario, a trend that advocates – including UFCW Canada – have already been seeing throughout the province.

UFCW Canada believes that every worker deserves to be treated with dignity and respect at work, no matter where they come from or their immigration status. And our union strongly believes that Doug Ford’s Conservative government should have included workers in the conversation surrounding its COVID-19 agriculture strategy, if protecting frontline agricultural workers is indeed their objective. 

Currently, there are five COVID-19 outbreaks at farming operations in Ontario, and over 100 migrant farm workers have been infected by these outbreaks. But agricultural workers have very few tools at their disposal to protect themselves from the coronavirus and enforce their health and safety rights at work, primarily because they are not covered by Ontario’s Labour Relations Act.

UFCW believes that, in order to truly improve the labour standards and health and safety protections of agri-food workers, migrant farm workers should be included in Ontario’s Labour Relations Act and should have the right to collectively bargain. This would provide migrant agricultural workers with the ability to negotiate their working conditions and improve the health and safety of their workplace.

Sadly, the Ford government is unlikely to act on this issue, as it not only refused to consult with migrant farm workers in constructing its COVID-19 agriculture strategy, but has also been called out by the Auditor General of Ontario for failing to adequately protect foreign agricultural workers from the coronavirus.

Ten years ago, the International Labour Organization (ILO) ruled that Ontario’s ban on unionization in the agricultural sector violates the human rights of the more than 100,000 migrant and domestic farm workers in the province. A decade later, it is clear that meaningful changes are still badly needed in the sector, as COVID-19 has exposed a crisis within a crisis.