Doug Coxson, New Hamburg Independent
Close to 100 people gathered in Hampstead on Sunday to remember the victims and survivors of the horrific February crash that claimed the lives of 10 migrant workers and London truck driver Christopher Fulton.
The crowd of migrant workers, activists and union members were also there to remember dozens of other workers who are killed or injured on the job every year in Ontario and to protest the conditions and treatment migrant workers continue to face in the wake of this accident and many others.
Three survivors of the Hampstead crash — Ariza, Javier Aldo Medina and Edgar Sulla-Puma, were not at Sunday’s ceremony.
The vigil, scheduled six months after the deadly collision at the intersection of Line 47 and Perth Road 107, was organized by Justicia — Justice for Migrant Workers, a Toronto-based non-profit collective made up of labour activists, educators, researchers and students.
“We want to make sure people don’t forget what happened here,” lead organizer Chris Ramsaroop said. “We also want to highlight what has happened to other workers who have died or been injured.”
Justicia is pushing for a coroner’s inquest in the accident, which police attributed solely to driver error.
“A lot of workplace accidents are much more complex situations,” Ramsaroop said, suggesting how shift work and fatigue could be factors that led to the accident.
In the wake of the tragedy, the Agriculture Workers Alliance demanded immediate action to improve standards for the way migrant workers are transported. Rolf Gerstenberger agrees.
The president of 1005 United Steelworkers out of Hamilton, was at Sunday’s noon-hour vigil with several fellow union members to show solidarity with migrant workers.
Many local migrant workers arrived in two school buses.
They carried signs calling for better medical care, and work permits that allow them to seek other employment without fear of being deported.
Several held black poster-board signs with the names of all of the victims in the Hampstead crash as chants of “Justice for migrant workers” echoed through the tiny hamlet.
“It’s a big deal when you have 11 workers killed in one accident,” Gerstenberger said, noting how the steel industry once shared the grim statistics of workers killed and injured every year.
He said an inquest should be automatic for any workplace accident, especially one that has such a huge impact, not only on the victims, but on their families back home.
“Unless you’re going to say that’s acceptable, something should be done,” he said. “If it was someone else, would the province call an inquest?”
Gerstenberger pointed to the recent public inquiry into the Elliot Lake mall collapse, called within days of the accident that killed two mall workers.
“There are problems with the whole industry with migrant workers. We’re pushing that this is serious.” Peter Page, president of the Ontario Network of Injured Workers, was also there to show support for migrant workers who don’t have access to the same benefits or medical care offered Ontario workers even though they pay into the system.
Foreign workers pay Employment Insurance, Canada Pension Plan premiums, and Canadian income tax.
“Thirty per cent of workers in Ontario are not covered,” he said, clarifying that his statistic refers to workers born in Ontario. “So these workers are even more marginalized by their employers.
“They are brought here, and if they lose their jobs they have to go home, they can’t look for other work,” he said. “Some of them live in squalid conditions.”
Page said one migrant worker his organization is working with was badly injured after being hit by a car while riding his bike.
He was forced to pay for his own medical care in Ontario.
“These workers who died have left their families in poverty.”
The United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Canada raised close to $230,000 through its Migrant Workers Family Support Fund.
The Township of Perth East also set up an account that topped $100,000. The money has since been distributed to the survivors and families of the victims.