Demonstrators took to the streets of Leamington, Ont., Sunday to draw attention to migrant workers’ conditions in the area as large numbers of them test positive for COVID-19.
The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit reported 98 new cases of novel coronavirus in the area Sunday with 96 of them among farm workers. Three migrant workers have died in Ontario due to the virus and two of them were working in the Windsor-Essex County region.
In the morning, a caravan of vehicles drove past different farming facilities in the region, honking to show support to the workers and bring attention to the issues they are facing. The drive-by rally was organized by Justice for Migrant Workers.
“We want them to know we recognize them as essential workers and they’re important to us and our community,” said organizer Elizabeth Ha.
“We see their working conditions [and] how they’re living and we hope that with the number of people that came out that the government will do something to protect the workers instead of having them shipped back in body bags.”
March for Migrant Workers’ Rights
A second march that began in downtown Leamington made its way to the front of the Lakeside Produce facility where it was met by security.
The group was asking for mandatory testing.
“They’re saying no [to testing] because they know that if they test positive, they’re going to be sent back to Mexico,” organizer Mary-Catherine Croshaw said.
“They need to have job security and they need to have CERB, that you and me are entitled to.”
The group also called for better living conditions for workers.
“There’s multiple, like 10 to 12 people, living in one house and, like, six men living in one room and they’re all sharing a washroom,” Vanessa Gaspar said. “How are we supposed to stop the spread of that if they can’t have proper housing?”
The crowd also chanted “Status now,” a demand that the federal government give workers a path to permanent residency. They also want better wages and benefits for the workers.
“What started off as being about COVID and the mistreatment of the migrant workers pertaining to that, it bubbled into the whole situation of their rights,” Crowshaw said. “It’s a human rights violation, really.”
“We need the government to raise the standards and to enforce better regulations and furthermore we also need the government to make them guarantee overtime pay [and] sick pay,” she added.
WATCH | Calls grow to improve conditions for migrant farm workers:
Nadeen Al-Taher took part in the march and said migrant workers in Ontario and around the world are often oppressed and taken advantage of.
“Capitalist structures and racist structures are always interdependent with one another,” Al-Taher said.
“This is why people of colour, Black and brown, Indigenous people, are often subjected to such exploitation — racism, threats, deportation — to keep them docile. The Canadian government is very aware that without giving them permanent resident status, they are able to completely be exploited.”
On-farm testing ramping up
In a Facebook post, Leamington Mayor Hilda MacDonald said that large numbers of positive test results are to be expected in the coming days as on-farm testing has ramped up quickly in the region.
She also said that an “isolation housing plan” is being made for workers and groups of workers who test positive.