On April 26, 2019, a collection of researchers, healthcare practitioners, workers’ rights activists, and volunteers met at the University of Windsor for the annual Migrant Farm Worker Health Forum. This event, organized by Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW), is a venue for emerging research and practices intended to better the health, conditions, and overall well-being of participants in Canada’s various Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) programs, including the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP). SAWP workers form an indispensable part of Ontario’s agri-food labour force but are subject to unsafe working conditions, exploitation, and chronic health issues. In preparation for my own thesis research regarding the housing arrangements provided for SAWP workers, I attended this year’s Health Forum, where I learned about the work that people in academia, local government, and the nonprofit sector are doing to advance the rights of our vulnerable agricultural labourers.
Presentations I attended highlighted a wide range of health issues that TFWs face. This included distressing findings related to their physical health, such as an alarming rate of tuberculosis, driven in part by the close quarters that many TFWs are provided by their employers (Piccinin, 2019). However, a large portion of the Forum was also devoted to workers’ mental health and social life, which are known to suffer during their time in Canada. Dr. Janet McLaughlin (2019) presented her research on the effects of workers’ separation from their families, explaining that TFWs suffer great emotional distress and social isolation from spending months away from their spouses and children and that their absence places an extra burden on those they leave behind. It is apparent that Canada’s TFWs sacrifice an exorbitant amount when they come here.
However, there were also multiple presenters who demonstrated the amount of thought going into new practices to better the conditions of TFWs. This included people working in local government, as well as the private and nonprofit sectors. Francy Muñoz (2019) presented the work that the Windsor-Essex Bilingual Legal Clinic is doing to ensure that workers are provided accurate information about their housing rights. Dr. Justine Taylor (2019) discussed the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers’ efforts to create resources to help SAWP workers, including an app available in English, French, and Spanish which provides users with information about local services, events, and healthcare. Carrie Sinowski (2019) explained the positive impact that has come out of Norfolk County’s Farms of Norfolk Football Association, which organizes an annual soccer tournament to promote social interaction between TFWs and local residents. While there is clearly still an enormous amount of work to be done, these presentations suggest that there are ways to create a fairer and healthier situation for Canada’s most vulnerable workers.
Louis Helps reflected on his participation in the 2019 Migrant Farm Worker Health Forum. Louis’ master research examines housing arrangements in the integration and experience of SAWP workers. You can find out more details on this research at www.ruraldev.ca/sawp-housing/.
McLaughlin, J. (2019, April). Temporary Workers, Temporary Fathers: Transnational Family Impacts of Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program. Presentation at the 2019 Migrant Farm Worker Health Forum, Windsor, ON.
Muñoz, F. (2019, April). Providing Workshops for Workers on Housing. Presentation at the 2019 Migrant Farm Worker Health Forum, Windsor, ON.
Piccinin, L. (2019, April). Tuberculosis with Migrant Farmworker Communities: a Public Health Perspective. Presentation at the 2019 Migrant Farm Worker Health Forum, Windsor, ON.
Taylor, J. (2019, April). Migrant Worker Health in Erie St. Clair. Presentation at the 2019 Migrant Farm Worker Health Forum, Windsor, ON.
Sinowski, C. (2019, April). Social Engagement Through Sport: FNFA 2018 Experience. Presentation at the 2019 Migrant Farm Worker Health Forum, Windsor, ON.