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Ontario farm guilty in migrant worker death

Ontario farm guilty in migrant worker death

Scotlynn Sweet Growers ordered to pay $125,000 for role in worker death.

By Andrew Joseph,; Image by Tonny Mafole from Pixabay

It’s a bad day when someone dies, and it’s even worse when someone dies on the job owing to a lack of worker protection.

After farm worker Juan Lopez Chaparro, 55, died in June of 2020 after about 200 workers tested positive for Covid-19 at an outbreak at Scotlynn Sweet Growers vegetable farm in Norfolk County, Ontario, the ag business pled guilty to failing to take reasonable precautions to protect its employees.

During the outbreak, Chaparro and others remained sick in one of the worker bunkhouses not isolated from others, which was shown to be a cause in furthering the disease to more workers. It is contended that the farm should have provided the means to isolate those who had tested positive.

As well, it was shown that there was a lack of proper screening of the workers, and that workers did not always accurately report any Covid-19 symptoms they may have had—more than likely for fear of not being able to work, and thus not being able to get paid.

It should be noted, though not excused, that at the time of the Covid outbreak at the farm, public understanding of the disease was still in its infancy with provincial shutdowns, but it was clear that we were in a global pandemic.   

The farm was fined $125,000 by a Simcoe court on June 6, 2022, far less than the maximum of $1.5 million it could have set—which has the migrant farm workers groups up in arms.

Speaking with CBC News, Syed Hussan, the Executive Director of the Workers Alliance for Change expressed dismay: “This fine is mere peanuts to a multimillion-dollar corporation, and it shows, yet again, that what’s needed is change at the federal government level.

“Migrants need permanent resident status to protect themselves.”

Mexican migrant worker Luis Gabriel Flores was a bunkmate of Chaparro, and was fired by the farm after speaking out against the crowded conditions in the bunkhouse. The Ontario Labour Relations Board has ordered the farm to pay him $20,000 in lost wages, plus an additional $5,000 in damages.

The case of Chaparro, Flores, and Scotlynn Sweet Growers is important in Canadian agriculture. Issues within our migrant worker system have always been there, but in this case the pandemic simply brought those issues more to the forefront with preventable death of Chaparro. 

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