Last Updated on January 29, 2021
Canada’s biggest province of Ontario is upping the number of inspections on farms, at greenhouses and other agribusinesses during the COVID-19 pandemic to protect the health and safety of temporary foreign workers.
“Our government is taking action to protect essential temporary foreign workers TFW who may be at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 during the upcoming growing season,” said Labour, Training and Skills Development Minister Monte McNaughton.
“We rely on these workers to ensure our grocery store shelves remain stocked and families have food on the table. These inspections will help stop the spread of COVID-19 on farms, and in our communities.”
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Advocates for migrant workers in Canada, though, say boosting the number of health and safety inspections is not enough and migrant workers need to be given full protection under Canadian labour laws.
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“Ontario announces more inspections for migrant farmworkers but has changed none of the rules that resulted in thousands being infected and Juan, Bonifacio and Rogelio’s deaths,” said Syed Hussan, executive director of Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.
“Ontario must enforce physical distancing at work and homes and fully include migrant workers under all labour laws,” said Hussan.
“But the buck stops with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who must grant permanent status to all now so that migrants actually have the power to protect themselves and assert their rights.”
Last year, there were 20,500 temporary foreign workers in Ontario and most of them lived in shared quarters on farms. That contributed to a high level of COVID-19 cases on Ontario farms, with almost 8.7 per cent of those workers, or 1,780 testing positive for the coronavirus that year and getting infected on those farms.
Most of these TFWs Mexico and the Caribbean through Ottawa’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
Ontario Boosting Agribusiness Inspections
Last year, Ontario’s health and safety inspectors visited 718 farms for COVID-19-related inspections in the agricultural sector and issued 383 orders.
This coming year, the provincial government wants to do more, including:
- Raising awareness of COVID-19 health and safety requirements through the distribution of information and instruction to farmworkers, supervisors and employers;
- Increasing compliance with workplace health and safety laws, including putting protocols in place to ensure hand hygiene, masking, enhanced cleaning and disinfecting, and proper physical distancing between workers;
- Enhancing protection for temporary foreign agricultural workers living and working on farming and agricultural operations by ensuring employers are actively screening workers for COVID-19, including completion of a daily COVID-19 questionnaire, and;
- Providing compliance information and enforcement of public health measures required under the Reopening Ontario Act to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace and in the community.
Inspectors will also check on engineering controls, the movements of workers, whether a workplace safety plan exists as required under the Reopening Ontario Act, 2020, and whether occupational illnesses are being reported as required under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA).
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“Our farmers, agri-food workers, greenhouse operators and food processors are working hard to keep their operations safe while continuing to provide us with a steady and reliable food supply,” said Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Ernie Hardeman.
“Since last spring, we have taken several measures to support them, including reinforcing public health protocols, making investments to increase operational capacity and helping to address labour challenges. Agri-food workplace inspections are part of our continued efforts to raise awareness, and prevent and control COVID-19 outbreaks.”
Inspectors are authorized to take enforcement action in response to any violations of the provincial health act. That can mean issuing orders or laying charges with the maximum penalty upon conviction under the health act being $1.5 million for a corporation and $100,000 for an individual. Individuals may also be imprisoned for up to 12 months upon conviction.