Workers harvest grapes at a farm. File photo courtesy of © Can Stock Photo / gina_sanders. Workers harvest grapes at a farm. File photo courtesy of © Can Stock Photo / gina_sanders.

Researchers examine gaps in supports for migrant workers

A sociology professor at the University of Windsor hopes to improve the experience of thousands of migrant workers who contribute to Canada's agricultural industry.

Doctor Glynis George and her team will join a larger project involving researchers from Western University investigating gaps in support services.

Researchers will interview 200 migrant workers over the next three years. Researchers will span out across Windsor-Essex, the Niagara Region, and Haldimand-Norfolk, all areas reliant on the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program, which brings about 60,000 workers to Canada each year.

"The pandemic shed light on various gaps in health, legal, and social services for this group," said George. "There is an urgent need for evidence to inform effective service delivery and ensure government investments are translated into better outcomes."

The federal government invested $58.6-million to increase inspections in living quarters and workplaces on farms and greenhouse operations that rely on migrant agricultural workers. Another $7.4-million went to agencies that support those employees.

In a testament to how important they are to the Canadian economy, the federal government exempted them from travel bans during COVID-19. However, the pandemic disproportionately impacted migrant workers. In Ontario, three died of the virus, including two in Windsor-Essex.

"Migrant workers are entitled to certain benefits, and in many cases, they aren't getting them," George explained. "Because of the long hours they work and language barriers, they often don't get the support to which they are entitled."

The researchers hope to find examples of best practices that can be shared and form public policy.

The Social Services and Humanities Research Council of Canada has awarded the project a $200,000 grant.

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