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Invisible no more: Migrant and refugee workers in Alberta's meatpacking industry face precarious conditions under COVID-19

Invisible no more: Migrant and refugee workers in Alberta's meatpacking industry face precarious conditions under COVID-19

What is the link between the immigration status of workers, the workplace conditions meat packers face and their experience of the COVID-19 pandemic? Why do meatpacking plants hire temporary foreign workers, recent immigrants, and former refugees as employees? What policy changes are needed to improve workplace safety of temporary foreign workers and newcomers? 

Bronwyn Bragg

These are the questions being addressed by Professor Jennifer Hyndman and SSHRC postdoctoral fellow Dr. Bronwyn Bragg in a SSHRC partnership engage project on COVID-19 Among Meatpacking Workers: Documenting Migration Status and Employment Conditions in Southern Alberta.  

Partnering with ActionDignity, a community-based organization that facilitates the collective voice of Calgary’s ethno-cultural communities, this community-university research partnership strives to understand the wider policy and status issues that contribute to some workers being more vulnerable to COVID-19 in the workplace. This includes looking at the relationship between Canadian immigration policy, access to Occupational Health and Safety for essential workers, and the conditions inside Alberta’s largest meat processing facilities.  

“We know that workers in meatpacking are disproportionately racialized and are often newcomers to Canada, but we want to understand more clearly this relationship so we can put forward policy recommendations and argue for changes that will lead to greater safety for workers,” says Hyndman. 

Specifically, the project will produce new knowledge about the intersection of immigration and temporary migration policies and the health and safety of immigrant and migrant ‘essential’ workers; identify the specific manifestations and impact of COVID-19 on immigrant and migrant workers in the meatpacking industry in Southern Alberta; and identify possible strategies, opportunities and challenges related to improving the health context of workers in meatpacking.

ActionDignity is a community-based organization that facilitates the collective voice of Calgary’s ethno-cultural communities towards full civic participation and integration through collaborative action.

“Newcomers, refugees, and temporary foreign workers are the ones most likely to work at these meat plants, as these low-paying difficult jobs with dangerous work conditions are unappealing to Canadians in general,” says Bragg who is a co-investigator in the study, surveying and conducting interviews with migrant and refugee workers in Alberta’s meatpacking industry. “They have been invisible workers, until the pandemic revealed them as the most precarious essential workers,” she adds.  

As a former ActionDignity employee, Bragg is also a scholar, researcher and facilitator originally based in western Canada. Her research draws on a participatory anti-oppression framework to explore questions of inclusion and belonging in Canadian cities. She has extensive experience working in a community-based capacity with immigrant communities in Calgary, Alberta. Her research interests address the intersection of gender and family under rapidly changing migration and immigration policy in Canada.  

Bragg’s research has explored the educational experiences of refugee youth, the employment outcomes of immigrant women, the impact of restrictive family reunification policies on immigrant families and the challenges facing temporary foreign workers and caregivers in Alberta and Ontario. Bragg completed a PhD in Human Geography at the University of British Columbia where she conducted ethnographic research with Syrian refugee women living in a mini-enclave in east Calgary. She is currently a SSHRC-funded postdoctoral fellow at York University's Centre for Refugee Studies. 

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