The Health Services Appeal and Review Board issued a historic decision last August 16, which granted OHIP coverage to migrant farm workers in medical emergencies.
The Ontario government has now indicated that it would be challenging the decision by filing a reconsideration request.
On August 9, 2012 Kenroy Williams and Denville Clarke were among nine Jamaican migrant workers who were driving to work when their employer’s van swerved to avoid an oncoming car. The van rolled several times killing one passenger and severely injuring several others.
Their employer attempted to return both Williams and Clarke to Jamaica despite their serious medical conditions and before they could receive adequate health care, say family members and activists with Justicia for Migrant Workers who intervened to help the workers remain in Ontario for medical treatment. Justicia for Migrant Workers is a non-profit political collective that advocates for the rights of migrant workers.
Both Williams and Clarke were employed under the auspices of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers program (SAWP), a federally operated employer-driven program that ties migrant workers to a single employer and denies these workers social and labour mobility, says a statement from Justicia for Migrant Workers. “As with all SAWP workers, Mr. Williams’ and Mr. Clarke’s OHIP coverage expired at the end of the farming season, even though they both remained seriously injured and in need of health care.”
The Health Services Appeal and Review Board decision allowed the workers an extension of their OHIP. This is the first time such an appeal has been made and granted since the inception of the farm worker program in 1966.
By challenging this decision, the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care is taking the position that Ontario has no responsibility to the migrant workers who get injured doing the dangerous work of putting food on our tables, says Justicia for Migrant Workers.
“Migrant workers come to Canada healthy and want to return to their families healthy at the end of the season. It’s not right, and the consequences are devastating, when Ontario sends migrant workers home after an injury without proper medical treatment,” says Jessica Ponting, an organizer with Justicia for Migrant Workers.
The Health Services Appeal and Review Board oversees appeals from people who have been denied OHIP coverage. Their landmark August 16 ruling recognizes the right of migrant workers under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker’s Program to receive OHIP in cases of medical emergencies that require the person to extend their stay in Ontario.
IAVGO Community Legal Clinic handled the case on behalf of Clarke and Williams.