greenhouse growing tomatoesSociology professor Glynis George has been awarded a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to conduct interviews with migrant farm workers and their service providers to find ways to close gaps in services. Photo by Erwan Hesry (Unsplash).

Research seeks to improve lives of migrant workers

A UWindsor sociology professor is embarking on research intended to improve the lives of migrant farm workers in Canada.

Glynis GeorgeGlynis George is examining supports for guest workers to identify ways to close gaps in service. It’s part of a larger project also involving researchers from Western University working across Southwestern Ontario in Niagara, Haldimand-Norfolk, and Windsor-Essex — the regions with the highest concentration of migrant farm workers in the province. Researchers aim to conduct interviews with 200 workers and service providers in each region over the next three years.

“Migrant workers are entitled to certain benefits, and in many cases, they aren’t getting them,” said Dr. George. “These workers contribute significantly to food security in Canada, to the agricultural industry in Canada and locally, and to the local economy, yet their health, safety, and well-being is often at risk.”

Canada’s agricultural sector, including greenhouses in Essex County, is reliant on offshore workers. The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program — one of several streams that bring temporary workers to Canadian farms — brings about 60,000 workers to the country each year. A testament to how important these workers are to Canada’s economy, the federal government exempted migrant farm workers from travel bans during COVID-19 restrictions.

“The pandemic shed light on various gaps in health, legal, and social services for this group,” George said. In response to high infection rates on farms and greenhouse operations, the federal government in 2021 put $58.6 million toward increased inspections and creating a national housing standard, and another $7.4 million to agencies that support migrant workers.

“There is an urgent need for evidence to inform effective service delivery, and to ensure government investments are translated into better outcomes for migrant agricultural workers,” George said.

Migrant workers have limited labour protections and are often exploited, she said. Because of the long hours they work and language barriers, they often don’t get the support to which they are entitled.

“While they are in Canada, separated from their families, they have a limited sense of belonging in the communities where they work and live, and may experience subtle and explicit discrimination, in addition to geographic and social isolation.”

The researchers hope to find examples of best practices that can be shared widely and form public policy across the country.

The project is being funded over three years by a $200,000 grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

George said this project is a natural progression in her research with migrant worker populations locally. She said she is looking forward to working with the Windsor Essex Local Immigration Partnership.

“This project is very focused on workers,” she said. “It will allow me to make connections across the regions.”

—Sarah Sacheli