“We really don’t know the impact on workers here. We know from stories in BC, Ontario and Alberta there have been migrant workers who have been severely impacted by COVID,” Ms Wheatley said.
While deaths and outbreaks haven’t occurred among temporary foreign workers in the Maritimes it’s possible they may have been affected in other ways.
“In Nova Scotia for example, some workers reported they were restricted in their movement. They weren’t allowed to leave their housing,” Ms Wheatley said. “We think it’s really important to document what has been going on and do that through talking to workers themselves.”
Ms Flores will be interviewing migrant workers who came to the Island this year. Research will be led by Raluca Bejan, an assistant professor of Social Work at Dalhousie University.
This year, 75 Island employers listed 1,284 approved positions through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program between January and October. That breaks down to 24 employers and more than 500 positions listed in Prince County and 23 employers and over 500 positions listed in Kings County. Ten employers provided more than 200 approved positions in Queens County.
Approved, listed positions aren’t necessarily filled. According to the province only 677 workers actually arrived to work on PEI between January and September 2020. This compares to about 830 in the same time frame in 2019.
The majority of positions are within PEI’s agriculture and seafood industries. A small number of positions listed are with restaurants, transportation companies and a couple of high wage positions with Health PEI.
Ms Wheatley said often temporary foreign workers are already vulnerable, relying on work from the employer who hired them. Some live in crowded conditions and work demanding jobs for long hours.
With COVID-19, there is a potential for conditions to be worse, Ms Wheatley said, adding the first-hand accounts from workers will be valuable in determining any effects.
When completed, researchers are hopeful that findings will be able to inform the program’s policies. Researchers intend to identify gaps that need to be fixed to ensure health, safety and well-being of workers as well as policies or systems which positively affect worker experiences in the Maritimes.
The main funding source for the research is the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Funding will pay for co-ordinators, interviewers, transcription and the researchers involved in compiling and writing up the results.
Alongside Cooper Institute, other partners include Dalhousie University, St Thomas University, Tatamagouche Centre, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Canada and KAIROS, a faith-based advocacy group.
While some interviews are already underway, the researchers are looking for more workers to talk with.
Migrant workers on PEI interested in being interviewed are asked to can contact Ms Flores at email@example.com or 902-316-1831 by phone or WhatsApp.
To view interactive map see peicanada.com