COVID-19: fears about agricultural workers, without better protection

Federal and provincial governments face “potential disaster” if more protections and guidelines on social removal are not extended to migrant farm workers, say human rights activists.
I the last few weeks, 14 migrant workers of Kelowna nursery were positive for Covid-19.

The workers at Bylands Nurseries all live on site, and Internal Health said there was enough space for each resident to isolate themselves safely.

There were 13,252 temporary foreign worker positions approved in British Columbia last year, but the Migrant Workers Center suggests that the actual number of workers could be much higher.

Anelyse Weiler, a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto, whose research focuses on migrant farm workers, said that not enough was done to protect vulnerable workers during the pandemic.

“The government must ensure that they receive solid information, that their rights are respected, that they have income during isolation and that there is solid logistics for quarantine,” she said. . Otherwise, we are considering a potential disaster. ”

In 2017, more than 59,000 temporary foreign workers were hired to work in the Canadian agricultural industry. More than 15,000 jobs remain vacant, however.

“The government assumes that the public will comply with public health orders, but we say it is not enough to protect workers,” said Natalie Drolet, executive director of the Migrant Workers Center.

On farms in the Fraser Valley or Okanagan, you don’t see the same inspections that can lead to business closings in big cities, she added.

Good collaboration with the government

Mary Robinson, President of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, said that the industry works well with government.

“Producers have a great interest in getting it right,” she said of the isolation and distance guidelines. These people enter a producer’s work space and often they also live there. It is extremely important on the producer side to make sure people are okay. ”

The British Columbia government canceled the waiting period for temporary foreign worker medical coverage last week, allowing health coverage for COVID-19 claims.

But Byron Cruz, a member of Sanctuary Health, which provides legal aid and advice to migrants, said the actions were not enough to protect workers.

“We want the government to make enforceable rules, not guidelines,” said Cruz.

Cruz said government directives did not include workers’ food supply.

As a result, Sanctuary Health coordinates food deliveries to workers in the Lower Mainland and Kelowna.

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