Activists call on government to provide immunization to migrant farm workers upon arrival in BC

Offer farm workers the shot?

Activist groups are lobbying the provincial government to ensure migrant farm workers are prioritized in B.C.’s immunization program.

Temporary foreign workers from Mexico and the Caribbean are already arriving in B.C. for the upcoming agricultural season. Programs developed last year will see the workers quarantine in hotels in Vancouver before being sent to their respective farms in places like the Okanagan Valley.

Radical Action with Migrants in Agriculture (RAMA Okanagan) is one of six groups to sign onto a letter sent this week to the BC government, saying living conditions and a lack of paid sick days put migrant workers at a higher risk of contracting the virus.

“This pandemic has revealed how vulnerable farm workers are during health emergencies. In 2020, some of the largest outbreaks of COVID-19 were on farms. Thousands of farm workers across Canada were exposed, many became ill and three migrant farm workers died of COVID-19,” the letter says.

An outbreak last spring within a group of migrant workers at Bylands in West Kelowna resulted in 23 cases.

RAMA says they have heard from several workers this year who are worried about returning to Canada due to the pandemic.

“Communal housing and close working conditions on farms put them at higher risk, and they are not able to practice social distancing or isolate themselves on-farm. Farm workers often will continue working even if sick for fear of losing wages or being sent home. And some farm workers have to pay out of pocket for medical treatments should they need them during the waiting period before receiving provincial health care coverage,” the letter says.

The group is calling on the provincial government to offer immunizations to migrant farm workers upon arrival.

“We need to provide migrant workers with the protections they need. Thousands put their health at risk to come to BC to work, we need to ensure that they can remain healthy and safe while here,” the group says.

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