Ontario producer group calls on government to continue funding support for worker quarantine costs
On Monday, June 21, the federal government announced the easing of some travel restrictions for fully vaccinated Canadians returning to Canada.
The Quarantine Act is still in effect however, requiring farm workers to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in Canada. Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA) says that the requirements of the act, including transportation, food, wages, and accommodations, cost farmers between $1,750 and $3,125 per worker.
“The financial hit will cause significant economic hardship for growers who depend on international workers on a seasonal basis because of a chronic shortage of domestic agricultural labour in Canada. For some, it may be the last straw that makes them reconsider if it’s economically viable to continue producing the food we put on our tables,” says OFVGA, in a press release.
The OFVGA says that in April 2020, the federal government announced it would provide farmers with up to $1,500 in relief for each temporary foreign worker who successfully completes the mandatory quarantine to help offset a portion of the associated costs.
This spring, the government changed direction on its commitment – months after most farmers had already made hiring arrangements for their international workers for the 2021 growing season, the OFVGA says.
As of June 16, the previous reimbursement of up to $1,500 per worker in isolation will be cut in half to a maximum of up to $750. The support program is scheduled to be eliminated entirely as of August 31.
The OFVGA is not asking for increased funding, only that the funding remain in place so long as the Quarantine Act is in effect.
A spokesperson for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada says that, “throughout this pandemic, our government has been supporting farmers. The Mandatory Isolation Support for Temporary Foreign Workers Program provided $1,500 per worker for arrivals up to June 15, 2021 and $750 per worker for arrivals June 16, 2021 and onward to employers to help them cover the costs associated with the 14-day quarantine as well as pre-entry testing requirements.
Since its inception, the program has dispensed over $100 million to farm operations across the country. It was, and remains, an emergency program, meant to help employers of temporary foreign workers in the context of a global pandemic where we had to take extraordinary measures to protect Canadians. As more Canadians are vaccinated every day and we can begin to see the end of this crisis, similar to many programs across government, we are winding down this Program towards the end of this summer, once most workers have arrived for the season. Other forms of financial support, including business risk management programs, will continue to be available for farmers experiencing hardships.”
The Canadian Federation of Agriculture has also announced its support for OFVGA and its call for continued financial support during enforcement of the Quarantine Act. “Farmers are committed to public safety, the safety of their workers and to abiding by all the public health safety measures that have been introduced throughout the pandemic. But if farmers are being mandated by the government to isolate their workers in the name of public safety, government should help cover those costs. We cannot ask farmers to sacrifice their livelihoods in order to protect us, especially when we rely on them to grow and raise the food we eat to live,” says Mary Robinson, president of CFA.
*This story has been edited to include a comment from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada