LONDON, ONT. -- Calls are increasing to better protect migrant agricultural workers at Canadian farms.

It follows the death of 55-year-old Juan Lopez Chaparro of COVID-19 on Sunday.

He had been employed at Scotlyn Farm in Norfolk County, which has an outbreak of more than 200 people infected with the virus.

The Migrant Worker Health Expert Working Group is made up of health experts and clinicians from universities across Ontario, including Western University in London.

It has denounced what it calls “government inaction,” following Chaparro’s death - the third at an Ontario farm since the pandemic began.

“The buck has been passed too many times from the federal government, to the provincial government, to local health authorities,” said spokesperson Dr. Susana Caxaj, an assistant professor at the Western University School of Nursing.

The working group is calling for uniform measures across the Canadian agricultural sector to better protect migrant workers.

Those include:

  • Standardized quarantine rules without room for interpretation
  • More frequent, and in-person workplace and housing inspections, with better enforcement
  • Easier access to health care for migrant workers.

“There are many health authorities that have never had a relationship with migrant agricultural workers,” said Caxaj.

“They don’t know how to reach them. They don’t know how to provide care for them. We need to stop pretending that this workforce doesn’t exist. They come here every year. Many of them come here for decades. Yet we act like we’re surprised to see them here picking our fruits and vegetables.”

On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said strict pandemic protocols are already in place at Canadian farms where migrant workers are present.

“Obviously there are cases where those rules were not followed. We are extremely concerned by that, and there will be consequences.”

The working group also wants the government to move away from employer-specific work permits- so workers are better able to refuse unsafe work.