Although May is Asian Heritage month and we at St. James are celebrating this fact with a focus on our South Asians neighbours, not all of them are enjoying the celebrations equally. Many in neighbouring Brampton are in the middle of the 'COVID inferno'; efforts are ramping up to have those in these neighbourhoods vaccinated, and authorities have been issuing workplace closures and ordering workers to stay home.
There are many essential industries in this area, a number of them employing temporary warehouse workers, who are majority South Asian. They move from place to place, and are not aware of their rights regarding sick leave or workplace safety, and often are not updated on the changing laws. “They become puppets in the hands of the employers, and they just make them dance to their tune,” Gagandeep Kaur said. She is an organizer with the Warehouse Workers Centre, a Peel-based advocacy group, and said “In the L6Y postal code, about 40 per cent of people speak Punjabi as their mother tongue, according to the 2016 census, the second most spoken language behind English. Many workers are trying to get permanent residency and working temporary warehouse jobs — while watching relatives in India die of COVID.”
Workers have put themselves at risk throughout the pandemic and Peel’s chief medical officer made the point this week that their work is helping keep the rest of us safe. Work place vaccination clinics have started in Brampton, but the pressure will have to be maintained to quickly get everyone vaccinated.
What can we do to help our neighbours? We can take steps to keep the pressure on our local government through our MPPs to push through the paid sick leave legislation, and to ensure that vaccines get to these most vulnerable people.
In the meantime, keep them in your prayers!