Good things grow…in On-tar-i-o. Is the jingle sounding in your head now? Another question for you: have you ever thought about who those good people are that grow those good things in Ontario? Take a two-hour drive outside of Toronto and you’ll see them. Its temporary migrant workers (but by now, you probably already knew that).
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent restrictions that have been put in place, I’ve begun to give some thought to migrant workers’ mundane mobilities. Mundane mobilities, for the purpose of this piece, refer to everyday logistics: where people work, sleep, eat, grocery shop, destress, etc. Mundane mobilities also extend to include how frequently, and with how much ease and permission seasonal agricultural workers are able to leave the farms they work at to shop, socialize, and explore their surroundings.
While non-essential, status-bearing Canadians have been instructed to stay home for the benefit of all, precarious immigrant workers travelled across countries and have been harvesting the good things. Yes, it may be possible to maintain a social distance in a field, but it may be more challenging to distance within living quarters. The report of 177 migrant agricultural workers from one farm testing positive for COVID-19 in June is alarming for numerous reasons. For one, these incidents highlight the cramped conditions that these workers work and live in. Secondly, an outbreak of such magnitude indicates how disposable temporary agricultural migrant workers are assumed to be. And finally, a lack of choice for the seasonal migrant workers is underscored. Had migrant workers had the opportunity to refuse unsafe work, without the fear of having their salary affected and thus their mundane mobilities curbed, perhaps there might have been fewer cases. Had migrant workers had the opportunity to refuse unsafe work, without the fear of being deported without receiving their full pay, perhaps there may have been fewer cases. Lack of access to income and a looming fear of its consequences impede migrant workers’ abilities to exercise their mundane mobilities safely and with confidence.
The precarious nature seemingly inherent to temporary migrant work is only amplified during COVID-19. It is odd that while migrant workers are healthy enough to sow and harvest, they remain unworthy of Canadian status. Perhaps it feels like I threw ‘status’ at you out of nowhere, but, consider this: without status one might be hindered from performing some everyday tasks. For the temporary worker, the mundane task of going grocery shopping might come with some risks, which might not be contemplated by the average citizen. For example, an accident is an unfortunate occurrence for most. But for a temporary migrant worker, an accident could reveal their disposability.
Switching gears now to wrap this all up, I pose yet another round of questions: during quarantine have you been able to stay at home and leave home with relative ease? To work from home, or apply for financial aids with ease? Now think, how different it would look if the people who harvested the foods that you can buy at grocery stores could too, answer yes to the above questions.
Bogart, N. (2020, June 20). Advocates demand Ontario shut down farms as COVID-19 cases soar among workers. CTV News. Retrieved from https://www.ctvnews.ca/