Group calls for legislation to protect farm workers from heat stress

'It should not be up to migrant workers to raise concerns given the extreme heightened vulnerability they experience due to their precarious immigration status in Canada'

Group calls for legislation to protect farm workers from heat stress

A group promoting the cause of migrant workers in Canada is calling on the Ontario government to better protect migrant farm workers from the risk of heat stress.

“Farmworkers are 35 times more likely than the general public to die of heat exposure. The province should not wait for a tragedy to happen before it passes legislation to protect the foundation of Canada’s food system: farm workers,” Justice for Migrant Workers (J4MW) said in a letter addressed to both Ontario Premier Doug Ford and David Piccini, minister of labour. immigration, training and skills development.

Justice for Migrant Workers (J4MW) is calling on the provincial government to pass legislation to protect farm workers. The group noted that 12 months ago, it made a similar statement, “to which the Ontario government responded by platitudes for farmworkers and a commitment to enacting heat regulations”.

In 2023, Ontario’s Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development (MLITSD) proposed to introduce a stand-alone heat stress regulation under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) with specific requirements that would apply to all workplaces to which the OHSA applies.

Nearly one year on, however, no such regulations have been enacted, noted J4MW.

Migrant workers’ ‘extreme heightened vulnerability’

J4MW argues that the province has left it to employers to provide proper breaks, hours of work, access to shade and water, and proper wages. However, this is a responsibility that “employers continue to shirk, as workers have reported ongoing issues amidst the heat waves,” said the group.

“It should not be up to migrant workers to raise concerns given the extreme heightened vulnerability they experience due to their precarious immigration status in Canada. There are still no anti-reprisal mechanisms in place to protect workers from discipline, termination, and repatriation for raising concerns.”

The group also shared the statement from a migrant worker named Johnathon, who has been working in Canada’s agricultural fields for almost 12 years.

“I love it here in Canada but there are alot of serious issues and ill treatment farm workers face that no one is aware of and also the weather conditions we have to work in,” he said. “I’m almost certain 70-80% of Canada’s agricultural sector comes from the work of migrant workers, yet enough isn’t being done for us. My co-workers and I even had to work in temperatures of 38-45 degrees when a heat warning is in effect.”

Previously, the United Nations (UN) warned that the world is ushering an era of "global boiling," which could risk workers collapsing from scorching heat.

Justice for Migrant Workers (J4MW) is demanding the implementation of emergency measures including:

  • Workers who work in the heat must be central and key decision makers in any proposed regulations regarding heat stress;
  • Shutting down farms and paying workers in extreme crisis events;
  • Paying workers when they are not employed as a result of climate-related issues such as forest fires, extreme heat, major thunderstorms and heavy rain;
  • Enacting heat stress protections for workers that are in the interest of workers;
  • Strengthening anti-reprisal measures and proactive inspections;
  • Implementing paid breaks and providing permanent paid sick days for agricultural workers;
  • Providing sufficient shelters, functioning bathrooms and drinking water for workers at the expense of the employer;
  • Providing first aid, hydration stations, and on-site medical support (RN or RPNs);
  • Permitting third party complaints at the Ontario Labour Relations Board;
  • Ending agricultural exclusions under the Employment Standards Act;
  • Incorporating race and gender analysis in both occupational health and safety and employment standards;
  • Ensuring that agricultural harvesters are being paid holiday pay;
  • Implementing clear trigger temperatures for extreme heat and humidity, including indoor temperatures (e.g., greenhouses);
  • Preventive measures to avoid overheating that include: specific requirements for shade, acclimatization for new and returning workers, mandatory cool-down rest periods during high temperatures, along with access to preventive cool-down measures as needed;
  • Extending OSHA protections to cover agricultural worker accommodations;
  • Implementing protections for both extreme heat and extreme cold temperature.

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