TORONTO — Temporary foreign workers who travel to Canadian farms for harvesting and planting seasons are some of the lesser-acknowledged essential workers, but a delay in their arrival this year due to COVID-19 could impact food production, farmers worry, reported Canadian Press.
Three-hundred Jamaican workers who landed in Halifax this week are now on farms in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley, weeks later than they usually would’ve been.
Some workers are at Keddy Nursery, which grows everything from strawberry plants to asparagus and sweet potatoes. Before they can work though, they must spend 14 days in isolation, which is the case for all migrant farm workers who arrived in Canada after the lockdowns began.
A federal program is aiming to keep workers paid during the waiting. Farmers like Charles Keddy are being supplied $1,500 per worker to help cover their pay for the quarantine period.
“It would have been a high expense and really no productivity, so (the money is) to offset that and the cost of the food and the extra (work of) getting the bunkhouse ready,” Keddy told CTV News. “You know, the $1,500 doesn’t offset the entire cost but certainly goes a long way to helping.”
The support came after the Canadian Federation of Agriculture pushed for Ottawa to dedicate funds to the agriculture sector in order to keep Canada fed.
Scott Biddle, president of Scotlynn Group in Vittoria, Ont., told CTV News last week that if the workers who travel from Mexico every spring to plant millions of pounds of asparagus and sweet corn can’t get to work on time, the food supply simply won’t be there come summer.
Roughly 60,000 temporary migrant workers travel to Canada every year to keep our agriculture flowing. They handle tasks that farmers cannot find domestic labour for, meaning they often work the hardest jobs for the longest hours.
According to the new federal government guidelines, once workers are out of the quarantine period and can get to work, they will be physically distancing from each other in the fields, eating areas and bunk houses. Employers are required to find hotels for workers if physical distancing is not possible in the lodgings provided for workers on farms.
In Norfolk County in Ontario, this means that bunkhouses that used to house 40 will now be housing three workers only.
If employers don’t heed the guidelines, there could be enormous outbreaks, advocates say.
At a plant nursery in Kelowna, B.C., 14 migrant workers contracted the virus in early April. All of them lived in on-site housing and had space to self-isolate, according to the Interior Health ministry.
Courtesy Canadian Press