VIDEO: More Measures Needed to Protect Migrant Workers during Pandemic

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An activist group is calling on the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit to better protect migrant workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Justice for Migrant Workers released an open letter to Medical Officer of Health Dr. Wajid Ahmed Thursday asking for proactive enforcement at bunk houses and workplaces moving forward.

Organizer Chris Ramsaroop says concerns are being sent in from throughout the province, but workers in Essex County are leading Ontario in complaints.

Those complaints include:

  • Workers who have tested positive are living in the same housing using the same kitchen, utensils, and bathroom as workers who have not tested positive for COVID-19
  • Sanitizers, masks and gloves in their workplaces or employer- provided housing are not being provided
  • Employers are not regularly disinfecting the workplace
  • Workers who are quarantined upon their arrival in the country are being placed in inadequate housing and are not being provided with adequate food
  •  Workers cannot socially distance at their employer-provided housing and workplace lunch rooms bathrooms and other facilities

A video posted on the group's website shows a warehouse in Leamington, Ont. filled with mattresses placed on wooden pallets and nothing to walk on but concrete.

The beds are spaced 6ft. apart, but workers have no barriers for privacy or protection.

He says the public health strategy is only focused on containing and controlling the spread to the wider population.

"We need emergency orders from the medical officer of health that are necessary to ensure there are proactive inspections and steps are taken to sanitize both the workplace and the bunk houses," he says. "Also, if workers are speaking up for their rights with respect to bunk houses that they're not facing any reprisals."

Ramsaroop says officials need to start showing up for unannounced inspections to catch companies in the act.

"We think that the steps that are happening currently in Windsor-Essex and across Ontario are not in the best interest of workers and we want to ensure that they can work safely and that they have the necessary protections so they don't get sick," he says.

He hopes to start a dialogue with the health unit to push for enforcement changes immediately.

"We know what the health concerns are and the potential risks and I think that there's enough academic literature, enough testimony and evidence our there to show what proactive steps should be taken to protect farm workers," he added.

The health unit recently announced more than 100 migrant workers have contracted the COVID-19 virus in Essex County.

Ramsaroop believes that number is under reported and the virus is likely making its way through area greenhouses and farms.