Ottawa invests $58M in protections for temporary foreign workers

Workers harvest grapes at a farm. File photo courtesy of © Can Stock Photo / gina_sanders.

The federal government has announced it will boost inspections on farms, strengthen protections for temporary foreign workers, and help farmers improve their living conditions.

There have been hundreds of COVID-19 cases linked to the agri-food sector in Leamington and Kingsville. Repeatedly, public health officials have blamed congregate living settings on farms and at greenhouse operations. Workers have complained of sharing bathrooms and kitchens and bunks that are too close together.

The federal government said it would develop a national “approach to employer-provided accommodations, focusing on ensuring long-term dignified and high-quality living conditions for workers.”

“We recognize that there are important issues that need to be addressed with the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, and we are taking action,” said Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Carla Qualtrough. “We are working tirelessly to ensure that temporary foreign worker rights are protected in Canada.”

The news is welcomed by the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers.

“Our members appreciate this new funding to boost protections,” said General Manager Joe Sbrocchi.

“All of our members want to keep their workers safe and health, and continue growing food for all Canadians,” added Chair George Gilvesy.

Over the next few months, it will consult with provincial and territorial governments, employers, workers, and the countries that take part in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

After the deaths of three temporary foreign workers in Ontario, including two in Windsor-Essex, Mexico brought the program to a halt until it received assurance that its citizens would be safe during the pandemic.

The federal government is already collaborating with the Canadian Red Cross and Ontario to set up temporary housing for foreign workers who need to self-isolate after testing positive for COVID-19.

An investment of $35 million will help farmers improve health and safety for their employees. Another $16.2 million will help strengthen the inspections regime on farms and in greenhouses and improve handling complaints. Supports for temporary foreign workers will get another $7.4 million, including $6 million for migrant worker support organizations to conduct outreach.

Immigration and refugee protections will be amended to hold employers accountable should they fail to keep workers safe. The change will also require employers to pay workers during their initial two-week quarantine when they first arrive in Canada.