Halifax/Kjipuktuk – On May 14th, the Migrant Worker Rights Working Group sent a letter to the Premier of Nova Scotia and government health officials urging them to fulfill a promise they made several months ago to prioritize vaccine access for migrant workers.
Responding to a question about the vaccine plan for migrant workers at an event on May 19th, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Strang stated “We are working with the agriculture and seafood sector, and quarantining workers and ensuring that they’re vaccinated. I don’t have all the details, but I know that we have made it a priority and Temporary Foreign Workers will get vaccinated.”
In January 2021, Dr. Strang indicated that migrant workers would be included in Phase 2 of the provincial COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan. This was based on the recognition that migrant workers living in congregate settings are a vulnerable population in Nova Scotia. Moreover, the province’s vaccine plan prioritizes essential workers. However, the Working Group estimates that the majority of migrant workers have not yet been able to receive their first dose of the vaccine due to a number of barriers in the province’s current vaccine plan that make it especially difficult for them to do so.
In their letter, the Working Group proposes a number of recommendations to improve vaccine access for migrant workers including the coordination of mobile vaccine clinics for migrant workers, requiring employers to provide time for migrant workers to access vaccinations without loss of pay, as well as consultation with migrant support organizations. In addition, the Working Group calls for protections from employer reprisals if migrant workers opt not to be vaccinated.
“Migrant workers risk their lives to come to work in Canada during the pandemic. Since the onset of the pandemic, thousands of migrant workers across the country have become ill with COVID-19, including in Nova Scotia, and several have passed away from the virus. We urge you to ensure that migrant workers are not left behind in the province’s vaccination strategy and implementation,” reads an excerpt of the letter.
Indeed, Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) has identified migrant workers living in shared living settings as a priority group in their recommendations for early COVID-19 immunization citing the “high number of COVID-19 outbreaks and associated cases, including deaths, have occurred in congregate living settings.” They also note that: “Many residents in these settings have inequitable access to health care.”
Approximately 50,000 to 60,000 migrant workers come to Canada annually through Temporary Foreign Worker Programs (TFWPs) such as the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) to work in agricultural, food and fish processing. Each year, approximately 2,000 migrant workers arrive in Nova Scotia to work in the agriculture and seafood sector.