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Demands Ontario enact legislation to protect agriculture workers from heat

Saying Ontario shouldn't wait for a tragedy before acting, a group that advocates for migrant workers is demanding the province enact legislation to protect those who work in agriculture from extreme heat.

Justice for Migrant Workers has made the demand before. It released a similar statement a year ago. At that time, the Ontario government committed to legislating heat regulations. So far, it hasn't acted on that promise.

On Monday, the group issued an open letter to the Ford government, pointing out that agriculture workers are 35 times as likely as the general public to die of heat exposure.

"The Ontario Human Rights Commission has stated that access to cooling is a human rights issue and that people with disabilities, who are Black, and are low income are disproportionately affected when heat waves and other heat events occur," said the letter. "Denying migrant farmworkers, who are overwhelmingly racialized, who are more likely to be injured on the job, and who work long hours for little pay, is a form of environmental racism."

It's up to employers to provide proper breaks, hours of work, and access to shade and water, a responsibility too many shirk, said Justice for Migrant Workers.

The group's demands include closing farm operations in extreme heat, strengthening anti-reprisal measures, extending OSHA protections to cover agricultural worker accommodations, and strengthening anti-reprisal measures for those who speak out.

"My co-workers and I had to work in temperatures of 38 - 45 C when a heat warning is in effect," said Jonathan, one worker in the Haldimand-Norfolk region. "A lot of us are afraid to raise any attention or speak out because we would be victimized or not requested back to work the following year in Canada.."

Other jurisdictions have acted. The United States has proposed a national heat standard, and states like Washington, California, and Colorado have enacted protections.

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