In 2013 alone, American employees throughout the country sustained a total of 170,450 back injuries while working on the job. Treatments for these injuries are typically covered by an employer’s workers compensation insurance.
However, not every worker in the United States is lucky enough to be treated for their injuries under the law. Nixon Arias, 31, had been working with a landscaping company in Pensacola, Florida for nine years. In 2012, he suffered an injury to his lower back while mowing the median of Highway 59 along the Alabama state line.
Arias received minimal treatment for three herniated disks through his employer’s workers compensation insurance. Six days after being recommended a more advanced surgery, the insurance company pulled all coverage from Arias’ medical treatments due to Arias’ unauthorized immigration from Honduras.
Suffering from chronic pain, Arias hired an attorney to argue on his behalf. The State of Florida entitles all employees, authorized or unauthorized, to receive workers compensation benefits. Despite this, Arias was arrested and spent a year in prison before being deported to Honduras. He never received the surgery for his work injury.
Stories like Arias’ are not uncommon nor are they only American stories. In Summerland, British Columbia, workers desperate for a chance to provide for their families are often left too afraid to complain of injuries or poor work environments for fear of being deported.
Canada’s seasonal agricultural worker program allows for workers in Mexico and 11 Caribbean countries to work on Canadian farms anywhere between eight months to a year. However, according to the New York Times, the Canadian program is poorly supervised and workers are hardly protected from exploitation.
Erika Zavala, 32, has been working on an organic carrot farm in British Columbia for three years. A single mother, she makes only $8 an hour while working 10 hours a day on her hands and knees weeding plants in the fields. In these working conditions, Zavala is at risk for chronic pain injuries — knee pain is considered the most common cause of chronic pain — however, the odds of her filing for workers benefits is slim.
“They always say, ‘You’re going to Canada to work, not to cause problems,'” Zavala says of Mexican officials before workers are sent over.
“This program is a form of apartheid,” Chris Ramsaroop, a Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW) organizer, said to the Times. J4MW is an Ontario-based labor rights organization led by volunteers. “Migrant workers are employed and live under a different set of legal rights than Canadians.”
The federal department supervising the program provides workers a web page and telephone tip line where cases of abuse or fraud may be reported. And while the line had received over 5,000 tips with 640 cases having been inspected, a report conducted by the auditor general in May 2017, the report found that 13 inspections had taken place that year out of the planned 173. The report also notes that none of the workers had been interviewed during any of the inspections.