This public health pandemic has shown us which people are essential to sustaining life. We now know who ensures we are fed and taken care of: migrant and undocumented workers.
And it is these same workers that are being left out of rights and protections. The largest COVID-19 outbreak in North America is taking place right now at the Cargill meat processing facility in Alberta, with another massive outbreak at JBS meat processing nearby. Many of those infected are current or former migrant workers. These plants must be closed until workers are protected.
J.J. is a current migrant worker at JBS, which has remained open despite 566 workers testing positive for COVID-19. He has this message to share with you: “We are concerned about going back to work. JBS keeps on calling us to go back. We are not sure if the workplace is safe. Our status is Temporary Foreign Worker. We are afraid that we will be terminated and sent back home if we take a leave of absence because of our safety. Or that they might not process our papers – our visa and work permit will expire in October.”
Food processing is one part of the food chain. From food production, to processing, to retail, cleaning and delivery – each link in this chain is held up by migrants. Canada is the world’s sixth largest exporter of agri-food – migrant and undocumented workers here feed the rest of the planet. And while the federal government has given at least $477 million in aid to agri-food businesses just in the last 5 weeks – without requiring them to pass on a single cent of this money to workers – migrants are being denied healthcare, income support, basic worker protections and permanent resident status.
These are their stories. Read them, and share them with your friends and family on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or forward this website to a friend. Remember: Migrant and undocumented workers are essential. We are the food chain. We sustain the world.
MIGRANTS GROW OUR FOOD
“If a worker is working in an environment which is risky and refuses to work, the employer wants to send him back to his country or suspend him. They treat us like slaves here, it’s like we have no rights. The boss is more concerned about the products than the workers.“
Andrae, migrant greenhouse worker from Jamaica, member of Migrant Workers Alliance – Niagara.
MIGRANT PACKAGE OUR FOOD
“I hope they close [the plant] to be able to clean it. I’m afraid of going to work. They changed our shift schedule. They combined two shifts into one – now there are lots of us in the locker room. Social distancing cannot be practiced at the work stations.”
- J.G, a migrant worker at JBS, member of Migrante Alberta.
MIGRANTS WORK IN GROCERY STORES
“I’ve been working at the grocery store for more than 5 years, it’s never been like what it is like today. Everyone is scared and worried, but we just keep working. I heard the government said we would get a raise, but then I learned it doesn’t include grocery store workers and I just don’t get it. Are we not frontline workers too?”
- Mr. Chen, migrant grocery store worker, member of Chinese Canadian National Council – Toronto
MIGRANTS CLEAN GROCERY STORES
“I have been working for 1 year in a downtown grocery store, 7 days a week, no day off. The company pays me $13/hour (but the minimum wage is $14), they didn’t pay me holidays, or pay on sick days. The company said if I’m sick, I have to stop working. They don’t provide plastic gloves or masks and I’m using a lot of chemicals to disinfect everything. I don’t have choice because I need money to survive.”
Rocio Ramirez, undocumented worker, member of Workers Action Centre
MIGRANTS DELIVER OUR FOOD
“I have been working full time as a delivery driver for 7 years. Right now, restaurants won’t let us use the washroom so we can’t wash our hands. As bare minimum in the crisis, the company should give masks, gloves and hand sanitizer – to protect us and customers too. But they aren’t. Everybody wants to get food delivered, but we have to keep working for $4.50/order.“
John, migrant food courier