Health care and WSIB challenges for temporary foreign workers

Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Janet McLaughlin
International Migration Research Centre, Wilfred Laurier University

Approximately 30,000 migrant farm workers come to Canada annually through two federal temporary labour migration programs. Working in one of the country’s most dangerous industries, such workers often find themselves in precarious positions. Health concerns are common. Numerous issues, such as their temporary work and immigration status, language and cultural differences, vulnerable employment positions, dependency on employers to access services and high levels of mobility, pose challenges to accessing health-care and workers’ compensation systems.

This plenary will present preliminary findings from an ongoing research project, funded by the WSIB, that is interviewing 100 primarily male migrant farm workers in Ontario about their experiences with workplace health and safety. The research also features dozens of interviews with stakeholders such as employers, health-care providers, worker advocates and WSIB representatives, as well as 30 in-depth case studies of injured workers.

As workers navigate health and compensation systems between Canada (their country of employment) and countries such as Mexico and Jamaica (their places of citizenship), their experiences demonstrate the profound risks and consequences of transnational livelihoods, which for millions of migrant workers worldwide has become a necessary means of survival. As temporary foreign worker programs expand rapidly across Canada, this research offers insights and recommendations for how health-care systems and compensation boards can better assist and service vulnerable, transient populations.