Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers is funded through the Ministry of Labour Prevention Office. Michelle Tew is a nurse and works in that program in Hamilton. She explained that the influx of seasonal agricultural workers started in the 1960’s mainly because our population preferred full time rather than seasonal employment.
Typically some 35,000 agricultural workers come to Canada annually from Mexico, the Caribbean and South America. The majority work in Ontario from Niagara to Leamington. These workers are subjected to long hours at minimum wage with no added compensation for overtime. Employment Standards need to change for this population which would also help Canadians.
In 2006 Agriculture came under the Occupational Health & Safety Act. While there is OHIP and WSIB coverage these migrants are hesitant to apply for fear of losing their job and being sent home. They cannot apply for Canadian Citizenship.
Michelle is focused on the plight of those afflicted with eye problems. Many of these migrants suffer from scarring over the cornea known as Pterydium also known as surfer’s eye. Others need corrective lenses but OHIP does not cover the exam unless the individual is diabetic. A worker may resort to buying glasses from the display at a drug store without seeing an optometrist.
Michelle is passionate about finding solutions for the problems these workers face including literacy, establishing clinics that are accessible as to time and location, prevention based workshops etc. As Michelle pointed out these workers come here to contribute to our economy and quality of life. What can we do for them in return?