"For migrant farmworkers in Ontario, COVID-19 made a bad situation worse"

In a recent article in The Narwhal by Hilary Beaumont, the horticulture industry in Canada is criticized for not taking care of the migrant farmworkers in Ontario.

In fall 2020, Damion, a Jamaican worker who picked tomatoes at a greenhouse in southern Ontario, broke out in an itchy rash. Then his skin peeled off. He was working for a Leamington company, that also runs greenhouses in Michigan and Texas, and is expanding into North Carolina. That fall, the company had dusted the inside of two greenhouses with a thick layer of limestone powder, which is used to stop disease and pests from destroying tomatoes. Workers say the powder filled the air, burning their eyes, lungs, and skin. It contaminated their food in the lunchroom. They couldn’t escape it.

The company's chief operating officer told in a letter that lime has been used “for generations” in agriculture to “control PH levels,” and that it was misused “for a very brief period due to new management.” She said the company removed the powder within 24 hours. But multiple current or former workers remarked that the powder was only removed after they went on strike, a drastic action caused by general mistreatment by their employer during the pandemic, with the chemical and its effects being the final straw. Nambiar denies that a “work stoppage” took place. 

Greenhouses are huge agricultural operations that rely on migrant workers to produce vegetables that are sometimes eaten by Canadians, but largely headed for export. People like Damion keep the food supply flowing, brought here on visas that are tied to specific employers, which creates a constant fear of being sent home for complaining. Because of this, migrant farmworkers often endure dangerous conditions, with poor access to healthcare and little government oversight. And when COVID-19 brought sickness, panic and lockdowns, a bad situation only became worse.

Read the complete article at www.thenarwhal.ca.

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