Protecting foreign farm workers from COVID-19 this growing season
THE BLUE MOUNTAINS, ONT. -- Large farm operations in COVID-19 hot spot regions are working to vaccinate as many migrant workers as possible as another growing season gets underway.
Fruit and vegetable growers rely on foreign workers who must be tested before boarding a plane and then again upon arrival.
"That has to be negative as well for everything to continue as normal, which is stay in a quarantine location for 14 days, and like any other Canadian citizen that's arriving, they must also have a day-10 negative test as well," explained Goldsmith Orchards Kyle Oakley.
Some 60,000 migrant farmworkers arrive in Canada, many from Central America and the Caribbean, to grow and harvest the country's food supply.
The government is helping farmers pay wages to the workers in quarantine, but there are concerns that support will be phased out this summer.
The federal government recently announced new measures meant to protect foreign farm workers. "To ensure our farmers have access to labour, Budget 2021 proposes to provide $57.6 million to extend the Mandatory Isolation Support for Temporary Foreign Workers Program to Aug. 31, 2021."
Under this initiative, the government offers support to employers up to $1,500 per worker until June 15, 2021, to cover some of the costs of the mandatory 14-day isolation.
Additionally, employers would receive $750 per worker after June 15, 2021, until the end of the program on Aug. 31, 2021.
The focus now is getting vaccines into the arms of agricultural workers.
"All of our workers from Mexico have been vaccinated, and all of the Canadian workers here that are working along beside them, myself included, are all vaccinated," said Morris Gervais, Barrie Hill Farms.
Workers can choose to receive the shot upon arrival at the airport, and in some cases, right on the farm where they are employed.
Morris expressed gratitude to the health unit for its efforts. "We are just really thankful to them, and we will try to grow some good crops for them in return."
Fruit and vegetable growers remain hopeful the government will find a way to continue support programs while quarantine protocols for temporary foreign workers remain in place.
With files from Anna Mehler Paperny, Reuters