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Federal committee examines TFWP following migrant worker’s death

Sheldon McKenzie, 39, died after head injury last year


(Canadian OH&S News) — A parliamentary committee has put Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) under review, in the wake of recent media reports about a Jamaican migrant worker who died from a workplace injury last September after allegedly being cut off healthcare services.

The review, initiated by Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk, was set up to examine controversial changes from an overhaul by the former Conservative government in June 2014.

Chris Ramsaroop, an activist with Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW) in Toronto, told COHSN that two migrant workers — a low-skilled worker and one with the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) — spoke before the committee on May 16, the first day of the hearings in Ottawa, but with little apparent result.

“They provided incredible testimony on what are the actual conditions, and most of the committee didn’t care,” said Ramsaroop. “Some person was more talking about the injustices that employers are facing in the hot-tub industry. As opposed to the way that women are discriminated against in access to healthcare.

“For me, that’s telling. That’s really telling.”

The working conditions for temporary foreign workers (TFWs) came under extra public scrutiny during the same week, due to the case of Sheldon McKenzie, a Jamaican migrant worker who suffered a head injury on the job on an Ontario farm in Jan. 2015. McKenzie subsequently fell into a coma and died in a Windsor hospital in September.

According to Ramsaroop, McKenzie was denied equal access to healthcare services after his injury — and his case is far from unusual in Canada. “This is typical,” said Ramsaroop. “This happens all the time.”

He added that TFWs often get cut off healthcare when their work permits expire. “The Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program that Sheldon came on, their work permits end by December 15th. So on December 15th, irrespective if you’re sick or injured, your healthcare is cut off because your work permit is cut off,” he explained.

“Number two is when a worker is terminated and they’re forced to go back to their home country,” Ramsaroop cited as a second reason for workers losing healthcare services. “And in both cases, it’s not fair, particularly when somebody is injured.

“This is a systemic problem that needs to be changed.”

Employment and Social Development Canada did not respond to COHSN’s request for comment before press time, but Mihychuk has referred to the McKenzie case as “shocking” in previous media reports.

Ramsaroop noted that little was known about the circumstances surrounding McKenzie’s injury because of the lack of investigation.

“There’s never been an inquest into any death of any migrant workers, despite the fact that we keep calling for them,” he said. “We don’t know what exactly happened.

“We know that Sheldon died because of a workplace accident,” added Ramsaroop. “We know that the family was feeling pressured that he should go home, in spite of being injured here in Canada, and we also know that many workers are fearful about trying to challenge the conditions in the workplace, for fear of being repatriated and banned from the program.”

J4MW is lobbying for access to residency for all migrant workers and for no TFWs to be tied to their employers or sent back home for medical reasons, Ramsaroop said.