Migrant worker advocates call for shutdown of Mucci Farms in Kingsville
Group says they've been told there's a 'mass outbreak of COVID-19' on the farm
Advocacy group Justice for Migrant Workers wants Mucci Farms in Kingsville to shut down after employees raised concerns over how the workplace is handling an alleged COVID-19 outbreak.
Justice for Migrant Workers sent a letter to Ontario Minister of Labour Monte McNaughton July 20, where they say they've been told that the farm has a "mass outbreak of COVID-19." The letter continues to say that workers feel compelled to work out of "fear of termination and deportation," while others have alleged they have been threatened for raising concerns about the spread of the virus in the workplace.
In response, Mucci Farms issued a statement saying, "The accusations in the letter are false and full of misinformation. We have been very transparent with our team and the public regarding the steps we have taken to protect our employees, and we are working directly with the public health unit to address all issues related to COVID-19."
On July 2, Mucci Farms had posted photos of workers being tested and at the time said they were all negative.
Justice for Migrant Workers organizer Chris Ramsaroop told CBC News Wednesday that employees are concerned about returning to work and want strong occupational health and safety standards in place.
"Workers were fearful, they were very concerned when they reached out to us," Ramsaroop said. "They want specific concerns at [Mucci Farms] addressed but workers across the industry have been raising concerns and fear that their employers are not addressing and taking the necessary steps to protect their rights."
Ramsaroop said the workplace should be shut down until worker concerns are handled.
"As we know the virus continues to spread and it's definitely not under control," he said. "It is time for strong, tough medicine to ensure the rights of workers are protected."
More than 500 farms inspected by Ministry of Labour
Ontario Greenhouse Vegetables Growers science and government relations manager Justine Taylor said Wednesday that to their knowledge the Ministry of Labour has inspected more than 500 farms and "to a large extent they have found that farms are adhering to the COVID-19 guidance."
Should a greenhouse or farm be asked to shut down, Taylor said that order would have to come from the health unit and that depending on the duration of the shut down, the result could be "catastrophic" for the crops.
A shutdown lasting two weeks or longer would destroy the plants, though she said if it was for a few hours so that facilities could increase sanitation that would be more "feasible."
But she added that workplaces have already ramped up their normal cleaning processes.
At this time, Taylor said they are working with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and Ontario Health to schedule on-farm testing.
Since sending out the letter to the Minister of Labour, Ramsaroop said they haven't heard back but will continue to apply pressure to the government. The group has also reached out to the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers.
Justice for Migrant Workers continues to call for a shut down of farming operations across Ontario.
- A previous version of this story stated that Justice for Migrant Workers was in favour of mandatory testing for migrant workers. In fact, they are not in favour of mandatory testing, but are in favour of more access to testing.Jul 30, 2020 12:27 PM ET