Last week, Fausto Ramirez Plazas became the fourth known migrant farm worker to die of COVID-19 in Ontario. Plazas died less than a month after arriving at Pearson Airport. He fell ill with COVID while quarantining with other workers employed by Procyk Farms in cramped, federally mandated quarantine facilities.
In April the Office of the Chief Coroner released the Deputy Chief Coroner’s Review: COVID-19 Related Deaths of Temporary Foreign Agricultural Workers in 2020. Since then, at least three more migrant farm workers have died.
“More than 40 migrant workers have died in Ontario since 2001, including three who contracted COVID-19 last year and at least six who have died this year. Their untimely deaths have gone unquestioned,” said OFL President, Patty Coates. “What does that say about the value we place on the lives of temporary workers who leave their own families, annually, to come to take care of Ontarians – often at the expense of their basic human rights and health? It’s simply unjust and must stop.”
The Deputy Chief Coroner’s Review identified 35 recommendations including:
- Better standards to make housing safer and calls for farms to be subject to unscheduled inspections to ensure the bunkhouses are safer.
- Better access to vaccinations for foreign workers, along with random and directed COVID-19 testing on farms.
- Foreign workers who are undocumented to have access to health care without repercussions to the workers or their employers.
However, more must be done to ensure appropriate scrutiny of underlying systemic failings, including barriers to accessing health care, communal living quarters, and limited access to culturally appropriate food, which led to unnecessary fatalities within the migrant worker community.
“Migrant rights are human rights, and the health and safety of the agricultural workers who ensure we all have access to food on our tables should be top of mind,” said OFL Executive Vice-President, Janice Folk-Dawson. “We should all be ashamed of the level of neglect and disregard encountered by migrant workers. We can and must do better.”
It is deplorable that inquests are currently mandatory for workplace deaths in the construction and mining sectors, but not agriculture — which in Ontario relies on the annual arrival of 20,000 migrant workers, largely from Mexico and the Caribbean. According to recent statistics from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board; in total, more than 2,230 agriculture workers have fallen ill since the global health pandemic began.
“The families and friends of Bonifacio Eugenio-Romero, who worked on a pepper farm near Kingsville, Rogelio Munoz Santos, who worked at a farm in Windsor-Essex, and Juan Lopez Chaparro, who worked on a vegetable farm near Simcoe, deserve answers,” said OFL Secretary-Treasurer, Ahmad Gaied. “For now, we extend our deepest condolences, support, and solidarity in their time of immeasurable grief. May they rest in power.”