Health as a right? Prioritizing health for migrants doing agricultural work in Ontario (2 of 3)

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On August 9th 2009, a series of health-related workshops brought together migrant people who live and work in various regions throughout Southwestern Ontario to the Centennial Arena in Niagara on the Lake (Viril, ON) to participate in discussions about their health. The workshops centered around health barriers imposed by the work (which is very limited in options) that people are allowed to do under Canadian migrant worker programs; the excessive level of control these programs give to employers (via employer-specific work permits), and program administrators and enforcers, over the workers' lives; and strategies on how to reduce barriers and prioritize the well being of workers.

I speak with a few of the event's organizers: Kate Sheese (researcher with Justicia For Migrant Workers (J4MW), MA in the History & Theory of Psychology), Evelyn Encalada Grez (co-founder of J4MW, researcher with Rural Women Making Change), and Ingrid Zea (Agriculture Workers Alliance in Virgil).  Have a listen to my interview with Evelyn Encalada Grez here.

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Event organized by ENLACE Community Link with contributions by various migrant justice advocacy organizations.

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*Workshops ranged from covering such issues as knowing your health coverage entitlements, discussing sexual health, sexual harassment on the job, as well as occupational health issues.

The event drew in over 250 attendees, with workshop rooms filled to standing room capacity. The workshops were based on the active participation of those attending, and were driven by the testimony and knowledge of participants.

Participants spoke to how the practice of tying individuals to a particular employer through employer-specific work permits undermines the ability of individuals to prioritize their health. Because employer-specific work permits make it so an individual’s opportunity to work and stay in Canada strongly depends on the arbitrary decision of their employer, the ability of individuals to speak out against workplace safety concerns, or even report injuries and seek health services is undermined due to fear that they will risk being seen as ‘trouble makers’, fired and sent back to their countries of origin.

*Health is a right. It is sickening that under Canada’s current immigration system and amidst the government’s constant attacks on non status migrants, a great number of people are denied the proper papers to enable them to prioritize their health. As the conservative government continues to block them from being able to take care of themselves and to personally foster health, individuals are being forced underground and into a position where access to healthcare and a workplace free of health risks becomes attainable only in their dreams.

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If you're interested in helping out with the migrant justice advocacy work that Kate, Evelyn and Ingrid are involved with, contact:

ENLACE community link
enlace.canada@gmail.com

Agriculture Workers Alliance- Virgil, ON
niagara@awa-ata.ca

Justicia For Migrant Workers-Toronto
info@justicia4migrantworkers.org

Fuerza/Puwersa (Guelph)

fuerza.puwersa@gmail.com

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migrantmatters@riseup.net

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