Feds announce plan for agriculture foreign worker transit to farms after March 21

The federal government has clarified how temporary foreign workers (TWFs) will reach farms this spring, in the face of requirements to stay in Government Authorized Accommodation (GAA).

So long as temporary foreign workers travel privately to their farms and can safely complete their mandatory 14 day quarantine on-farm, they will not need to complete the three-day stay in a GAA,  says Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), Marie-Claude Bibeau.

“Asymptomatic TFWs will be able to travel directly to their place of quarantine after getting a COVID-19 test at the airport provided they travel by private transportation and are accompanied only by others who travelled with them to Canada. TFWs who will need to travel by public means to a secondary location upon arrival in Canada will be required to stay in a GAA and await the results of their COVID-19 test,” the government says.

Bibeau estimates that 95 per cent of temporary foreign workers will be able to go directly to farms to quarantine.

Provided TFWs have a suitable quarantine plan and safe transportation arranged to their place of quarantine, the government intends to ensure employers and TFWs will not assume incremental costs associated with the three-day quarantine requirement at the point of entry; however, the financial mechanism to cover this cost is not yet established. Workers will also be provided with supports on arrival and during their hotel stay, Bibeau says.

The official opposition says that this plan falls short of what is required, and contains gaps in services — namely, how workers can complete the post-arrival 10-day COVID-19 test.

In a letter to agriculture ministers, Michelle Rempel Garner, Conservative Shadow Minister for Health, and Lianne Rood, Conservative Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Agri-Food, wrote that this plan “fails to address key issues raised by farmers and foreign workers, such as the follow-up COVID-19 test at day 10 following international farm workers entering Canada. If anything, this release only increases producers’ uncertainty.”

Of note, the Conservative ministers say that the 10th day test requirement assumes access to daily mail services (as samples can be sent in by courier), as well as access to a nurse workers are able to communicate with directly or with an interpreter.

“There are major challenges with the accessibility and functionality of this system across rural Canada, affecting thousands of international farm workers entering during the 2021 growing season, and runs the risk of jeopardizing Canada’s food supply chain,” the letter states.

Farms could face hefty fines for not adhering to the rules — as much as $100,000 — but in those areas where courier service is limited or non-existent on weekends, the Conservatives say farmers could end up running afoul of the rules as laid out.

The government says it commits to:

  • Working with provinces to ensure employers are well prepared to safely welcome and quarantine workers – including through safe travel arrangements to their place of quarantine, and with suitable isolation options for positive/symptomatic workers throughout the season;
  • Increasing and strengthening inspections of employers in agriculture, to ensure they are meeting their quarantine obligations and TFW Program requirements related to working conditions and wages, and providing more education for employers on their obligations;
  • Funding migrant worker organizations to provide direct assistance to workers affected by COVID-19 for the 2021 season, as well as working with these organizations to assist workers during the arrival process and throughout the season;
  • Improving the TFW tip line, with the addition of live agents able to offer services in multiple languages, who can help workers better communicate situations of mistreatment or abuse, and providing additional education for workers on their rights; and,
  • Improving coordination with provincial and territorial partners through a new central point of contact to ensure responsible authorities are able to respond quickly to emerging issues, including outbreaks.

In addition to today’s announcement, the Government of Canada recently launched a pilot project to conduct more in-depth inspections of employers at higher risk of committing Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) fraud, and will assess compliance results over the coming months.

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