02/07/2012 03:09 EST

Stratford Van Crash Highlights Plight Of Canada's Migrant Workers


TORONTO -- A horrendous crash that killed 10 migrant farm workers and a truck driver in rural Ontario is raising concerns about labour rights and safety in the agriculture sector.

Stan Raper of the Agriculture Workers Alliance said migrant workers toiling on Ontario's farms face long shifts under often difficult conditions.

"You couldn't be more precarious,'' he said Tuesday. "There has to be a more humane way to provide work to people."

He said fatigue leaves workers vulnerable to accidents such as Monday's crash in Hampstead, northeast of Stratford.

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The deadly collision has also revived safety questions surrounding the transportation of migrant workers, with some pushing for a ban on 15-passenger vans, the kind that ferried Monday's crew.

A van carrying workers from Peru and Jamaica collided with a flatbed truck after reportedly going through a stop sign.

The impact of the crash sent the van hurtling across a lawn before smashing into the side of a house with the passenger side ripped nearly clean off.

It was the deadliest multi-vehicle crash in Ontario since 1999, when fog near Windsor caused an 87-car pileup that killed eight people.

Raper said labour laws governing farm workers offer little protection, particularly to those who come from overseas.

"They would have minimal protections under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, because there is an act dealing specifically with farm workers which has no regulations per se," he said.

The province bars agricultural workers from forming unions and collective bargaining, a decision upheld last year by the Supreme Court.

Monday's deaths have caught the attention of two New Brunswick women whose sons were killed in a terrible crash four years ago while travelling in a 15-passenger van.

The pair are fighting an application by a local shuttle service seeking to use the vehicles to carry students.

Unsafe vans were targeted in a number of recommendations issued by British Columbia's coroner following an inquest into the 2007 deaths of three migrant workers.

The inquest found the van was overloaded with passengers, most of whom had no access to seatbelts, and the driver wasn't licensed for that kind of vehicle.

In a decision released in December 2009, the coroner called for the government to ramp up checks on 15-passenger vans and boost enforcement of licence requirements, among others.

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