Originally published April 13, 2020 on Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
On April 13, the Government of Canada announced $50 million to help farmers, fish harvesters, and all food production and processing employers, put in place the COVID-19 safety measures necessary to follow the mandatory 14-day isolation period required of all foreign seasonal workers.
Recognizing the importance of this responsibility, the federal government will provide a lump sum payment of $1,500 to each farm employer who is now housing and looking after temporary foreign workers under the Quarantine Act. The funding is conditional on employers not being found in violation of any safety protocols or other public health unit order.
In a teleconference with media at 2 pm April 13, ag minister Marie-Claude Bibeau highlighted the special needs of fresh fruit and vegetable farmers who need experienced foreign workers. She indicated that details of the funding mechanism will be announced in the days ahead, but could be arranged through regional organizations.
She was not explicit, but presumably organizations such as FARMS in Ontario, FERME in Quebec or WALI in British Columbia would be involved since they already have the records of which employers have received foreign workers after the Quarantine Act was put in force. To be clear, employers who received workers prior to the new travel restrictions are not eligible. And secondly, this isnota first-come, first-served program.
With a $50 million program, it’s easy to calculate that this funding covers only about 33,000 workers. Minister Bibeau said the program would cover foreign worker arrivals for the months of April, May and June. “If we have to increase the amount, we will consider doing that,” she said.
Media outlets on the teleconference call — the Toronto Star and Global News — pressed the agriculture minister on what assurances there would be for the oversight mechanism of payments as well as health and safety of foreign workers.
“We can trust that employers care for the health of their community and workers,” Bibeau said. “If they do not respect the rules, then very severe sanctions and fines will be administered and employers risk not having workers in coming years.”
She also indicated that several levels of government – immigration, labour and public health units – would be making follow-up calls on farm employers.
“I doubt many farmers would play with the rules,” Bibeau said. “It’s very important that we support farmers and food processors to make sure that we have food on our shelves.”