Province urged to include migrant workers in COVID-19 vaccine roll out

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Jael Duarte, an immigration lawyer and member of No One is Illegal - Fredericton, says many provinces are following the federal government's recommendation to vaccinate migrant workers during the second stage of their plan, but New Brunswick has excluded them. (LA Henry Law - image credit)
Jael Duarte, an immigration lawyer and member of No One is Illegal - Fredericton, says many provinces are following the federal government's recommendation to vaccinate migrant workers during the second stage of their plan, but New Brunswick has excluded them. (LA Henry Law - image credit)

An organization that advocates for migrant workers in New Brunswick is calling on the provincial government to include them in the next stage of the COVID-19 vaccine roll out, which is scheduled to begin next week.

No One Is Illegal – Fredericton has published an open letter, arguing that the workers who come to the province to work on farms and in other industries such as seafood processing should be prioritized.

"We have to be aware that these workers are contributing to the economy," said Jael Duarte, an immigration lawyer in Fredericton and a member of the group.

"Our economy is going, with the pandemic, because these people are working in the province and keeping alive our companies. So I think in return, the least we can do is [include] them and [follow] the directive from the federal government," she said.

The federal government recommends vaccines be offered to migrant workers living in shared accommodations during the second stage.

The province's latest vaccination plan, which was announced on March 12 and covers up to the end of June, excludes migrant workers.

Duarte contends the workers are at high-risk of contracting COVID-19. "They are working every day, long hours. … They are together all the time," she said.

Relying solely on the 14-day isolation requirement when migrant workers arrive in the province and isolating workers who test positive to prevent the spread of the virus instead of vaccinating all of them "shows a willingness to put their lives at risk."

The open letter, which is signed by several New Brunswick community groups and unions, suggests exclusion of the workers "amounts to discriminatory treatment."

The Department of Health did not respond Friday to a request for comment.

Could face loss of employment, immigration status

Duarte said she doesn't know why the workers weren't included but she hopes it was an oversight.

"That is why we are doing this call, to say, 'Hey, we would like the vaccine available for everyone," she said. "We will hope we will have a positive response."

Migrant workers whose employers require a vaccination as a condition of work could be at risk of "further exploitation from their employer," according to the open letter. "They could be at risk of loss of employment, and even loss of immigration status as a result."

"Vaccinating all high-risk workers, including migrant workers, is critical, not just to protecting the workers, but also the community at large," it adds.

Some of the signatories include: CUPE NB, Unifor, community groups such as Common Front for Social Justice, Grassroots NB, Fédération des étudiantes et étudiants de Campus universitaire de Moncton, as well as L'Hirondelle Farm, Atlantic Certified Organic Cooperative, Black Lives Matter-Fredericton, and Reproductive Justice NB, among others.

A national statement by the Migrant Rights Network in support of vaccines for all has been signed by more than 250 organizations.