Migrant worker’s death prompts calls for full and permanent immigration status
Working conditions of migrant farm workers have come into focus following the death of a migrant worker while operating heavy equipment at a southern Ontario farm.
The Ontario Ministry of Labour confirmed on Aug. 14 that it was notified of a fatality at a farm in Norfolk County, stating: "a temporary foreign worker was fatally injured while operating farm equipment."
The worker was identified by the Jamaican government and his Norfolk County employer.
"The Ministry of Labour and social security is expressing deep sadness at the passing of Mr. Garvin Yapp, a 57-year-old worker who participated in the ministry’s farm work programme in Canada,” the Jamaican ministry said in a media release.
It goes on to say that Yapp had been travelling to work on farms in Canada for 35 years, and he was held in such high esteem that his employer would vacation at Yapp’s home on his visits to Jamaica.
His employer, the VanBerlo family declined an interview, sending a statement instead through their lawyer.
"The VanBerlo's did not lose an employee. They lost a person they considered a member of their family. Their relationship with Garvin was forged over 34 years of employment at their family farm. Accordingly, they are devastated by his death,” the lawyer’s statement read.
The emailed statement from the lawyer said the family has cooperated fully with the investigation undertaken by the Ministry of Labour and awaits the outcome of the coroner's analysis into the cause of death.
“The VanBerlo’s extend their profound and heartfelt condolences to Garvin’s family in Canada and Jamaica.
ADVOCATES SPEAK TO MIGRANT WORKER'S CONDITIONS
Advocates are arguing the system that governs migrant worker’s employment in Canada is broken and needs to be revamped to ensure there are no more preventable deaths.
“We do not know if his family will receive any compensation,” said Syed Hussan, executive director at Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.
The organization said this is just one of a dozen migrant worker deaths in Canada they are aware of this year.
“People are literally dying for your food,” said Hussan.
The organization points to the death as proof the foreign worker system needs to be overhauled, arguing workers need to receive full and permanent immigration status.
“Human beings are being treated like machines,” said Hussan.
The cause of the farming equipment crash which led to Yapp's death is unknown at this point.
"The migrant farm worker program is effectively a human rights catastrophe," said Hussan. "Every day we hear about injuries. Every month we hear about deaths. There have been three deaths that we know of just in the last week."
The Ontario Ministry Of Labour says their investigation is ongoing.
The Jamaican Ministry Of Labour said they are in contact with Yapp's family offering 'psycho-social and other support.'
The Jamaican labour minister is touring farms in Canada this week.