A group advocating for migrant farmworkers is claiming government and employer negligence resulted in an outbreak of COVID-19 at a West Kelowna agricultural business.
The Migrant Rights Network (MRN), Canada’s migrant alliance, is calling on the federal government to immediately require employers of migrant workers to provide adequate health and safety protections to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. A total of 19 cases has been confirmed at Bylands Nurseries Ltd. among 75 workers — 63 migrant and 12 local — which the MRN cites as a direct result of substandard housing and working conditions.
According to the MRN, thousands of workers are expected to arrive in Canada in the coming days.
The MRN has sent a detailed letter to the federal government outlining necessary changes and requesting a consultation to create regulations that ensure worker rights and safety, as part of our broader demands for migrant justice during COVID-19.
“Unsafe housing and lack of labour and immigration rights have put migrant farmworkers at immense risk,” said Byron Cruz from Sanctuary Health in Vancouver. “Already workers in Kelowna have become infected because of lack of enforceable quarantine requirements. We are worried about the lack of plans from the relevant health authorities to provide adequate access to health care for migrant workers.”
Sanctuary Health, a group united for refugee and migrant health, is supporting workers who are in quarantine on several farms. The group claims workers have been abandoned by employers and are relying on the support of community groups for food.
“This crisis has made it urgently clear that employer and government negligence to ensure decent housing and working conditions must end. In a public health crisis, we cannot protect anyone if we do not protect everyone,” said Syed Hussan, Executive Director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.
Kelowna Capital News reached out to Bylands Nurseries’ vice president of sales and human resources, Mike Byland, for comment but did not receive a response specific to the allegations. Byland said at this time the company is focused on the health and safety of its employees and nobody will be speaking publicly, however, the company is issuing statements on its social media pages.
On April 1, Bylands Nurseries’ Facebook page read the following:
“Bylands Nurseries Ltd has been participating in the established, government-led Seasonal Agriculture Worker Program since 2004. This mutually beneficial program allows us to meet seasonal business demands while providing workers with wages that allow them to support their families at home with education and medical needs. Many of our guest workers return to Bylands year-after-year – some have continued to work with us since 2004 and, over the last 15 years, have become part of the family at Bylands. We have been recognized as one of the best employers of temporary foreign workers in BC for our accommodations and internal processes.”
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