Migrant worker says COVID-19 outbreak mishandled at Norfolk farm
KITCHENER -- A migrant worker is speaking out about the COVID-19 outbreak at a Norfolk County farm, saying Scotlynn Group didn’t respond quickly enough after employees started getting sick.
The allegation is part of a report released by the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.
Edgar, who spoke to CTV News through a translator, says his employer brushed off concerns after workers developed fevers and coughs.
“They told us it was just the usual, like every year, people getting sick from the level of work that we were doing, and that workers should simply go to the store and buy themselves some pills.”
The first signs of sickness began around May 22.
“It wasn’t until Wednesday, May 27 when the workers called an ambulance for their co-worker who was so sick that he couldn’t get out of bed. That’s when the employer started to take it seriously. It was on May 29 that they brought in the public health unit to do testing.”
In the interim, Edgar says workers remained in close quarters and continued to share bedrooms and bathrooms.
The advocacy group Migrant Workers Alliance for Change says the COVID-19 outbreak is bringing to light the concerns they have had about how migrant workers are treated.
“The conditions make it possible for the disesase to spread like wildfire in farms,” says Karen Cocq.
Scott Biddle, the President and CEO of Scotlynn Group, has denied the allegations. He declined an interview but told CTV News his understanding is that when workers became sick they were immediately taken to hospital for an evaluation.
In a statement, Biddle says: “We have had many of the same workers coming to our farm for over 20 years and have developed a personal relationship with most of them. We have very good culture and communication with our employees.”
The Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit says all of the workers at Scotlynn Farm have been tested for COVID-19, and 164 of them were infected with the virus. The remaining 53 tests came back negative.
As of last week, seven people remained in hospital and two of those were still in the intensive care unit.
The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change says the hospital reached out to their organization to assist with translation.
“She told me that one of the worker’s was intubated and about to be placed on a ventilator,” says Sonia Aviles. “The anesthesiologist needed the worker’s consent for this. She wanted me to tell the worker that he might not wake up.”
Aviles says the worker she spoke with seemed confused.
“He told me that he had not spoken to his family about his condition. He didn’t have his phone with him and no one had helped him get a phone.”
Before Aviles could get consent for the intubation, the call ended.
“To this day I can’t sleep thinking of what may have happened to this family,” she says. “Will he die alone without his family, not even knowing what happened?”
The interim president at Norfolk General Hospital tells CTV News that all patients have access to translation services, with help from staff members, a translation service and an app. They say all patients have also been provided with iPads.
The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change is calling for changes at Ontario farms. They have released 17 recommendations in their report, and at the top of the list is permanent resident status for all migrant workers. The advocacy agency says it would give employees more rights and the ability to leave their workplace if they choose.