Friday, November 13, 2020

Fired migrant worker wins appeal

Scotlynn Sweetpac Growers of Norfolk County got a stern lecture and a $25,000 fine from the Ontario Labour Relations Board after it heard complaints from a migrant worker.

Scottlynn fired Luis Gabriel Flores after he spoke to reporters, telling about conditions that he said put him and fellow workers at risk of contracting COVID-19.

At the height of an outbreak on the farm, almost 200 migrant workers tested positive for the virus, including Flores himself. 

One worker, Juan Lopez Chaparro, 55, died. 

"We have won this battle but we have to keep fighting for equal rights for migrants in this country," Flores said through an interpreter at a news conference.

"Do not be afraid. Dare to raise your voice," he said. "Dare to use this valuable weapon. It is important that we do not remain silent. United we are stronger." 

Flores, who is from Mexico, worked at the farm and shared a bunkhouse with other workers. Chaparro, his bunkmate, was among many on the farm who were ill with COVID-19, but the only one who died. 

The Labour Relations Board said “there is no evidence that the employer had taken any steps to improve the working or living conditions or address the issues raised by Mr. Flores.”

Flores was fired after Scotlynn's former owner, Robert Biddle, showed him a video of someone speaking to the media about conditions on the farm.

Scott Biddle now owns the business.

Under Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act, it is illegal for employers to penalize, dismiss, discipline, suspend or threaten to take any of these actions against a worker who has refused unsafe work. 

In its ruling, the labour relations board wrote that Flores was "particularly vulnerable". 

"The power imbalance between the employer and Mr. Flores, as a migrant worker who does not speak English and relies on the employer for wages, shelter and transportation, should have been more carefully managed since a reprisal can strike a far deeper wound than might otherwise occur in the traditional employment relationship." 


Scotlynn was ordered to pay Flores $20,000 in lost wages and $5,000 for the distress he suffered.