Local group plans events in support
WATERFORD– A local group is tired of others trying to define the migrant-worker experience in Norfolk to the outside world.
They acknowledge there are farmers who could treat their offshore help better, but they also want Ontarians to understand there are many sensitive, thoughtful farmers who consider their workers family and who go that extra mile to treat them properly.
The group has dubbed itself the Norfolk Community Alliance Against Racism. They launched a publicity campaign this weekend involving the placement of 800 signs denouncing shabby treatment of offshore workers and inviting the public to a rally at Governor Simcoe Square Friday titled Anti-Racism Against Migrant Workers.
Spokesperson Leanne Arnal, of Waterford, says the community needs its responsible farmers to put themselves forward as an example for others.
They also want the public to understand that – once off-shore workers complete their mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival in Canada and are deemed COVID-19 negative – they are entitled to go about their business in the community free from harassment and suggestions that they may be asympomatic spreaders of the coronavirus. This is the same message Norfolk Mayor Kristal Chopp shared several weeks ago.
“There’s a lot of tension,” Arnal said Monday. “And – to be honest – Norfolk is a hot mess right now. It’s like the dirt has been stirred up in the water and it needs to settle.”
The high-point for this coming week of activism involves a rally at Governor Simcoe Square Friday, followed by a march through downtown Simcoe in solidarity with migrant farm workers, most of whom hail from Mexico, Jamaica and other islands in the Caribbean.
Guest speakers Friday evening will address a number of issues. One includes farmers who are so frightened of a bunkhouse outbreak shutting down their operations that they forbid their workers from leaving the property. In a normal year, the weekly bus trip into Simcoe to stock up on groceries is an occasion for these workers to relax, socialize and enjoy the benefits of their hard work.
Arnal reports this prohibition is causing divisions within bunkhouses along with mental health issues. Some workers, she said, are being kept from girlfriends they have in the general community.
“It’s terrible,” Arnal said. “No one is telling anyone who works in an office that they’re stuck in the house.”
Arnal added she and her team “are so proud of these farmers who are stepping up and speaking out about how we should be treating these workers.”
Alliance promotional literature says Friday’s event at Governor Simcoe Square gets underway around 6 p.m. A speakers list is being drawn up. DJs will play Caribbean-themed music downtown around 7 p.m., which is when organizers intend to stage their march through the core.