Many migrant farm workers who come to Canada every year are not given proper safety training, live in hot and cramped quarters, have no access to clean water and see their health suffer as a result, say two new research papers.
Researchers found that many workers from Mexico, Jamaica, the Philippines and other countries develop ailments linked to the gruelling work they do on Canadian farms, largely in British Columbia and Ontario.
The authors say in their papers, published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, that workers suffer from persistent back pain, eye and skin disorders and mental health problems due to a combination of factors.
Jenna Hennebry, who co-wrote one of the papers, said overcrowded housing, the rigours of 12-hour days, lack of knowledge of their right to health care and the stress of being away from families for much of the year take a heavy toll on workers.
Still, many of those who develop health problems don't seek care because they either don't know they are entitled to it, work too much to get to a clinic or fear losing their job.
"One of the most disturbing things we found were the barriers to accessing health care and compensation," said Hennebry, a social scientist with the International Migration Research Centre at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont.
"Forty-five per cent of those surveyed indicated they were fearful of reporting concerns to employers."
Hennebry surveyed about 600 migrant workers in Ontario from 2007 to 2009, finding a number of them experienced some type of health ailment linked to their farm work in Canada.
She said most complained of back pains, symptoms linked to gastro-intestinal disorders, heat exhaustion, pesticide exposure or food- or water-borne disease.
More than 85 per cent said they did repetitive movements all day, likely causing musculoskeletal injuries, while almost 80 per cent said they worked in extreme heat.
The majority of those surveyed said they worked many hours without breaks, had no protection from the rain and no safety training or knowledge of the risks in their work.
A similar study in B.C. produced similar results.
The surveys, some of the first of their kind in Canada, also asked workers about their living conditions on farms that employ tens of thousands of legal migrants every year through federal government programs.
Almost 15 per cent said they didn't have access to clean drinking water, very few had fans or air conditioning in their residences and some said there weren't enough beds for everyone.
But researchers contend that farm and domestic workers often don't seek help for their health concerns because they fear losing wages or being sent home by their employer and then prevented from returning in the future.
Bette Jean Crews, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, said the reports' findings are questionable because the employment of migrant workers is regulated by the federal government.
— The Canadian Press