Niagara wine-maker launches GoFundMe for injured vineyard employee

Niagara wine-maker Southbrook Farms is raising money via a GoFundMe for an injured employee who's regularly been flying in and out of Canada from Mexico over the years. GoFundMe / Southbrook Farms

A Niagara-on-the-Lake vineyard is coming to the aid of a migrant worker who was injured on a Mexican farm in March.

Southbrook Farms launched a GoFundMe campaign for 20-year wine-making specialist Juan Carlos, 48, who injured a hand when it was dragged into an industrial chopping machine last month.

The temporary foreign worker, from an area southeast of Mexico City, has been coming to Canada for 12 years to work for wine-makers in B.C. and Ontario.

Read more: Migrant farm worker COVID-19 vaccine pilot project to occur at Toronto Pearson airport on weekend

Ann Sperling, the director of viticulture at Southbrook Farms, revealed the injury in a Facebook post and hopes to raise $16,000 for the worker after he had to pay for surgery to repair his hand, antibiotics and painkillers.

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Sperling says most manual labourers in Mexico do not have health-care coverage.

“Juan Carlos is the type of guy that is very sought after in the farm world, as his 20+ year record of employment in Canada attests,” said Sperling.

“He is a natural at mechanics, having self-taught everything about maintenance and repair of large farm equipment.”

At present, Sperling says the father of four has no income whatsoever and is getting aid from a pair of uncles, a brother and his dad.

The injury could also affect Carlos’s future as a migrant worker in Canada as entrants are required to undergo physical examinations.

Funds from the GoFundMe campaign, running until October, will cover the cost of physiotherapy, travel to and from medical appointments and basic needs, according to the vineyard.

The news comes the same month Canada recognizes those injured in workplaces during the National Day of Mourning on Wednesday.

Read more: Advocates call for accessible COVID-19 vaccine plan for migrant farm workers in Ontario

Traditionally, the event is observed in multiple ways, including flags lowered to half-mast on government buildings, including Parliament Hill.

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The last report on injuries from the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada (AWCBC) in 2019 recorded 925 workplace injuries across Canada with over 270,000 claims submitted for lost time due to a work-related injury or disease.

The COVID-19 pandemic has added a layer of challenges for many temporary foreign workers over the last year amid mass virus outbreaks on a number of Ontario farms in 2020.

The province estimated that more than 1,780 workers tested positive for COVID-19, with three dying from the virus.

About 20,000 temporary foreign workers are employed on Ontario farms each year, with many arriving within the last few weeks for the 2021 growing season.

Ontario has been offering COVID-19 vaccines to migrant farmworkers arriving at Toronto’s international airport through a pilot project.

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Hamilton is hoping to complete a mobile clinic strategy that could include travel to migrant workers on larger area farms. The program would have to be approved at the provincial level.

—With files from The Canadian Press

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