Migrant Workers

Migrant workers face the distinct reality of navigating the multiple and overlapping insecurities created by the nexus of migration and work policies and of being excluded from most elements of Canada’s social safety net, while having limited or no protections in their countries of origin (Faraday 2014, 2016; Rajkumar et al. 2012; Thomas 2016; Vosko, Preston and Latham eds., 2014; Vosko 2019). Migrant workers are critical for the everyday economy. These individuals perform jobs that others may not wish to do, and thus they ensure that there is an adequate flow of goods and services (especially food and care, respectively) (Tungohan 2018). COVID-19 is creating a major barrier for migrant workers. Many cannot reach their destination in order to work, translating into individuals losing job opportunities and income to support their families. At the same time, many domestic employers are facing shortages of both workers and supplies. Contradictions are exposed. For example, agricultural workers in our so-called low-skilled seasonal temporary foreign worker programs are filling jobs that require both highly-skilled and long-term employees. Examining distinct groups of migrant workers sheds light on different dimensions of this paradoxical precarity that are shaped by gender, race, class, and immigration status. This sightline examines the impacts of the pandemic on migrant farm workers, migrant care workers, international students, and undocumented workers, among others.

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When the coronavirus pandemic closed Canada's borders, the Trudeau government announced an important exception: a subsidy program that would allow foreign manual laborers to come into Canada before the growing season. In order to forestall any potential spread of infection, the government would pay for a two-week mandatory quarantine.

But workers say their quarantines were poorly handled by some employers, with little or no government oversight, and risked exposing them to the deadly virus.