Transcript: Migrant Worker Safety Amid COVID-19 | Jun 26, 2020

Jeyan sits in the studio. He's is in his thirties, with short black hair and a trimmed beard. He's wearing a gray suit, white shirt, and purple tie.

A caption on screen reads "Migrant worker safety amid COVID-19. Jeyan Jeganathan. @JeyanTVO. @theagenda."

Jeyan says TEMPORARY FOREIGN WORKERS WHO ARRIVED IN THE PROVINCE THIS SPRING TO PLANT OUR FIELDS AND KEEP OUR AGRICULTURAL SECTOR STRONG HAVE BEEN HIT HARD BY COVID-19. IT'S SHONE A LIGHT ON THAT PART OF FARMING AS NEVER BEFORE. MARY BAXTER COVERS THE SOUTHWESTERN PART OF THE PROVINCE FOR OUR ONTARIO HUBS AND SHE JOINS US NOW FROM LONDON FOR AN UPDATE...

Mary is in her forties, with shoulder-length wavy brown hair. She's wearing a printed blouse.

Jeyan continues WELCOME TO THE SHOW, MARY.

Mary says HI, JEYAN. IT'S GOOD TO BE HERE.

Jeyan says DOUG FORD, PREMIER DOUG FORD ANNOUNCED EARLIER THIS WEEK THAT WINDSOR ESSEX COUNTY WOULD JOIN THE REST OF THE PROVINCE IN STAGE 2 EXCEPT FOR KINGSVILLE AND LEAMINGTON. A LOT OF THAT HAS TO DO WITH MIGRANT WORKERS THERE WORKING ON FARMS AND IN GREENHOUSES. WHAT'S GOING ON THERE RIGHT NOW?

The caption changes to "Mary Baxter. Southwestern Ontario Hub Journalist. @MaryBWord."

Mary says WELL, THERE'S BEEN A NUMBER OF OUTBREAKS OF COVID-19 IN A LOT OF THE MIGRANT WORKER COMMUNITIES. WE'VE SEEN IT DEFINITELY IN ESSEX COUNTY, IN THESE TWO MUNICIPALITIES. WE'VE ALSO SEEN IT IN NORFOLK COUNTY. AND WE'RE TALKING LARGE, LARGE NUMBERS OF PEOPLE, IN SOME CASES WELL OVER A HUNDRED PEOPLE GETTING SICK WITH IT. IN ESSEX COUNTY WE'VE SEEN ACTUALLY TWO WORKERS DIE FROM COVID-19. ANOTHER WORKER IN NORFOLK COUNTY AS WELL.

Jeyan says I WANT TO PICK UP ON THAT. YOUR ARTICLE FOR TVO.org HIGHLIGHTED ONE MAN'S STORY WHO DIED OF COVID-19 THIS MONTH. HE WAS ONLY IN ONTARIO FOR ABOUT THREE MONTHS. CAN YOU TELL US HIS STORY AND ABOUT HIM?

Mary says ROGELIO SANTOS WAS HIS NAME. SOME ACCOUNTS HAVE HIS AGE WHEN HE DIED WAS 22. OTHERS HAVE IT AT 24. WE KNOW HE WAS IN HIS EARLY 20s. HE ACTUALLY CAME TO CANADA AS A TOURIST AND WAS LEGALLY HERE AS A TOURIST. IT WAS NOT LEGAL FOR HIM TO WORK HERE. BUT HE WAS RECRUITED TO WORK IN LEAMINGTON AND LIVED IN A HOUSE WITH NEARLY 30 OTHER MEN. THAT HOUSE WAS JUST TERRIBLE IN TERMS OF IT DIDN'T HAVE A PROPER KITCHEN FACILITY, THERE WERE ONLY A COUPLE OF TOILETS FOR ALL THE MEN TO USE. ONE OF THOSE TOILETS DIDN'T WORK. THE PAY HAD ALL SORTS OF SURPRISING DEDUCTIONS IN TERMS OF LIVING AND FOOD AND TRANSPORT. THE WORKERS COMPLAINED. THEY WERE MOVED TO A LOCAL HOTEL WHERE HE ACTUALLY ROOMED WITH THREE OTHER MEN, AND THERE WERE JUST TWO DOUBLE BEDS FOR THEM ALL IN THAT ROOM. THE MEN, WITH ALL THESE CROWDED CIRCUMSTANCES, THEY ALL GOT SICK. HE GOT PARTICULARLY SICK. THEIR EMPLOYERS, WHICH WAS THE CONTRACTOR TEMP AGENCY, DIDN'T TELL THEM OR CONVEY TO THEM ANY PRECAUTIONS THEY SHOULD TAKE IN TERMS OF SOCIAL DISTANCING. THEY TALKED ABOUT COVID-19 AS BEING JUST SOMETHING THAT WAS, YOU KNOW, A MILD SEASONAL SORT OF THING. THESE GUYS, WHEN THEY GOT SICK, THEY WERE OUT IN THE COMMUNITY. THEY VISITED A LAUNDROMAT, FOR INSTANCE. THEY WENT TO THE DRUGSTORE. BUT WHEN HE GOT SICKER AND SICKER AND ANOTHER WORKER WAS ALSO CLEARLY ILL, THEY WENT INTO THE LOCAL HOSPITAL. THE HOSPITAL KEPT MR. SANTOS. THE OTHER WORKER WAS SENT BACK TO THE MOTEL. AND THEN, AS WE KNOW, ROGELIO DIED SOON AFTER THAT.

Jeyan says I THINK ONE THING YOUR ARTICLE HIGHLIGHTED WHICH WAS VERY IMPORTANT, A LOT OF PEOPLE DON'T KNOW, IS FARMERS DON'T ALWAYS HAVE RESPONSIBILITY FOR MIGRANT WORKERS, RIGHT?

Mary says THAT IS RIGHT, SURPRISINGLY. A NUMBER OF WORKERS COME IN LEGALLY IN CANADA. THEY HAVE PERMITS THEY HAVE TO OBTAIN. THOSE PERMITS ARE OFTEN TIED TO A PARTICULAR EMPLOYER. WHAT CAN HAPPEN, THOUGH, IS THE WORKER LEAVES THAT PLACE OF EMPLOYMENT BECAUSE OF PERSISTENT PROBLEMS AND THEY WANT TO FIND OTHER WORK. WHEN THEY DO THAT, THE TERMS OF THEIR PERMIT ARE NO LONGER IN EFFECT AND THEY BECOME SOMETHING THAT'S KNOWN AS UNDOCUMENTED. THEY CAN OFTEN FALL PREY TO TEMPORARY AGENCIES WHO THEN HIRE THEM, KNOW THEIR CIRCUMSTANCES, AND PAY THEM INADEQUATE WAGES, PUT THEM INTO TERRIBLE LIVING CONDITIONS. BUT THESE AGENCIES ARE ALSO EMPLOYING THESE PEOPLE. THEY'RE THE ONES THAT ARE SUPPOSED TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR THEM AND FOR OTHERS LIKE MR. SANTOS DID COME INTO CANADA, WHO WAS NOT ALLOWED TO WORK HERE, BUT CAME IN THROUGH ANOTHER MEANS.

Jeyan says THIS SITUATION HAS ALSO HIGHLIGHTED THE NEED FOR REFORM. WHAT ARE ADVOCACY AGENCIES CALLING FOR?

Mary says THEY WANT TO SEE SOME BIG REFORMS HAPPEN. ONE OF THE BIG THINGS IS THAT THEY WANT TO SEE AN OPEN WORK PERMIT BE ISSUED TO ALL FOREIGN WORKERS WHO COME IN TO CANADA. THEY WOULD ALSO LIKE TO SEE SOMETHING LIKE THAT IMMEDIATELY EXTENDED IN A MANNER SIMILAR TO WHAT PORTUGAL HAS DONE, SO THAT EVEN UNDOCUMENTED WORKERS WOULD BE ABLE TO OBTAIN THAT KIND OF PERMIT. AND ACCESS TO OUR HEALTH CARE SYSTEM. THE OTHER BIG THING THAT THEY WANT TO SEE IS REGULATION, OF COURSE, OF THESE AGENCIES. MANITOBA HAS SUCH REGULATIONS IN PLACE. BRITISH COLUMBIA HAS THOSE REGULATIONS IN PLACE. ONTARIO DOES MAKE IT ILLEGAL FOR RECRUITERS TO CHARGE A FEE TO PEOPLE WHO WANT TO COME TO CANADA. BUT IT DOESN'T REGULATE AT THIS POINT IN TIME, IT DOESN'T REGULATE THESE AGENCIES.

The caption changes to "Producer: Carla Lucchetta, @carrletta."

Jeyan says MARY, I WANT TO THANK YOU SO MUCH. OF COURSE, A STORY THE WHOLE PROVINCE WILL BE WATCHING IN THE WINDSOR ESSEX COUNTY AREA. THANK YOU SO MUCH. THAT'S MARY BAXTER, OUR SOUTHWESTERN HUB JOURNALIST. THANK YOU AGAIN.

Mary says THANKS, JEYAN. GREAT TO BE HERE.

An animated slate reads "Ontario Hubs. Ontario Hubs are made possible by The Barry and Laurie Green Family Charitable Trust and Goldie Feldman."

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