This year, Christmas Eve passed in Toronto as it always does, snowless, but still cold, malls filled to the brim with frantic shoppers. But while most of us were trimming the tree, singing carols and watching Miracle on 34th Street, the families of five Rexdale construction workers were devastated with the news of a ‘workplace accident’ that would cost them almost everything.
The six men, ranging in age from 21 to 35 years old, were working on high-rise balconies from a swing stage that split completely in two. Unfortunately, these men were not in a union, and safety equipment was only provided for one, so five of the six fell thirteen stories to the concrete unprotected.
One of these men, 21-year-old Dilshod Mamurov, survived. He was saved only by the fact that he managed to hang on to one half of the scaffolding as it split. He swung down two stories before he fell and while that 20-foot difference saved his life, the other four men fell to their deaths.
Mamurov is currently in critical condition at a local Toronto hospital. Both his legs are broken and his spine shattered, and he will most likely need constant medical attention for the rest of his life. Mamurov’s family is reportedly in the process of trying to come to Canada, despite financial restrictions.
Farrah Miranda, from the Toronto chapter of No One Is Illegal, (a collaborative organization that fights for rights, dignity and protection of immigrants and refugees), said, “All of these men had precarious immigration statuses and reason they died, the reason they didn’t have access to the most basic safety precautions is because they didn’t have permanent status [in Canada].”
Both the Ministry of Labour and the Toronto Police are cur- rently investigating the scaffolding malfunction. Just over a week before the accident, alternate reports say, a month and a half long stop-work order relating to other swing stage concerns was lifted on the site. But are they investigating why only two safety lines (enough for one man) were provided for six?
“Employers always try to cut cost,” said Chris Ramsaroop, a legal aid from the Workers’ Action Centre in Toronto, “and they don’t produce and provide workplaces that are safe.” At the same time, “undocumented, foreign [and] recent workers are being exploited because [Canada doesn’t] have the necessary government framework to protect workers.” It is a fact that a migrant, foreign, or recently immigrated employee attempting to raise concerns about the workplace risks not only being fired, but also being deported, or “repatriated” as it is euphemistically referred to. “It’s the larger structure that needs to be held accountable.”
Miranda agrees. “The real problem here is there isn’t a full and inclusive program for workers to get status when they come to Canada,” she said, “that’s what we need for workers’ rights.” Right now there are 200,000 undocumented workers, working in the most dangerous workplace situations all over Canada.
The owners of 2757 Kipling Ave, identified as ‘2058876 On- tario Ltd. have refused to apologize or promise better workplace safety but have released the following statement: “We wish to express our condolences to the loved ones of those who died, and extend our hopes for a speedy recovery to the individual who was injured.”
A month later, spokesperson Danny Roth refused to answer any more questions, stating that they are “not having any further comment at this time,” and that the above statement (released on December 25), is still the “position for ownership.”
This story is not only illustrative of our country’s treatment of foreign workers, it is a human tragedy. What’s worse is that, as Ramsaroop said, it is “representative of tens of thousands of workers across this country.”
These five families, most with no family support in Canada, (or in Mamurov’s case, are not even in Canada), with temporary work visas or refugee claims in place, are living in uncertainty. They lost their foothold in the gruesome and humiliating battle for status in Canada, and worst of all, they lost a father, a hus- band, a brother or a son.
Undocumented workers are, says Miranda, “treated as commodities, used and abused and then disposed of when they’re no longer needed.” This dehumanization is not acceptable. “The company is to blame [and] the government is to blame,” she con- tinues. Those who are responsible for unnecessary death should be held accountable.
Visit http://toronto.nooneisillegal.org and http://www.workersactioncentre.org for more information.
as published in the Ryerson Free Press, February 2010