Today I want to share a story that I came across in the news a few short days before Christmas. It’s a follow-up to the horrific van crash near Hampstead, Ontario that killed ten migrant workers and one Canadian last February.
Nearly a year later, survivor Juan Jose Ariza is still recovering from the mental and physical wounds from that crash in a retirement home in London, Ontario. While he is undergoing treatment, so is his wife–for brain surgery. Mr. Ariza’s wife, Edith, was in the hospital in December 2012 for a series of operations that resulted in her son being left home alone with the neighbours to look after him.
Mr. Ariza now faces a catch-22. He wants to be with his family; however, his visa expires on January 31 and leaving Canada means risking his eligibility to return. In Peru, he would not receive the same quality of medical treatment and it would be next to impossible for him to find a job with his current injuries. Ariza’s choice: poverty or permanent separation from his family.
Canada brings over 300,000 migrant workers every year to complete labour that the vast majority of Canadians find too difficult, too dirty, and not worth the pay. The Ontario-appointed Expert Advisory Panel on Occupational Health and Safety found that certain employers actively avoid providing their workers with proper training, supervision, safety equipment, and adequate knowledge of their health and safety rights. Out of fear for losing hours of work, losing their job, and being denied the ability to participate further in the current and future seasons of the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, 76% of migrant workers who are injured on the job do not file a claim to workers compensation.
Mr. Ariza’s words echo the plight of many other temporary workers: “if I go back [to Peru], who is going to give me work? How will I be able to feed my family, take care of them? I don’t have a working future in Lima.” This is a common dilemma facing temporary migrant workers who are injured. It is important that we provide and more stringently enforce protections for temporary migrant workers, whose vulnerabilities are often exploited by their employers. Taking action will ensure that workers like Juan Ariza have access to adequate workplace safety knowledge and equipment, and can make claims and obtain treatment for workplace injuries without fear of deportation.